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Combine the competitive pressure of global markets and consumer scrutiny of food safety and environmental issues, and it's no wonder that farmers everywhere often see a difficult road ahead.

Should I expand to gain economy of scale? Should I produce for a niche or shoot for volume? Can I push my cost of production low enough? Will I be able to manage new demands for stewardship and/or traceability? Whether the crop is grain, vegetables, fruit or cotton, many of the issues are the same.

New technology tools — microchips, sensors, global-positioning and the Internet, to name a few — offer a part of the solution to help producers meet the challenge of change. But only if those who would benefit can see clearly how they could employ these tools to enhance yields, reduce costs and provide answers to society's scrutiny.

Meanwhile, those marketing the new tools of agriculture seem to face an information gap that's difficult to bridge with their own communication. Potential buyers of new technology often have difficulty seeing how a particular solution fits into their overall production system. Decisions on acquiring new tools require stepping back and looking at the a bigger picture. Growers must get a sense of the long-term benefits of change before they can grasp the benefits posed by any individual marketing pitch for a component of this wider change.

To bridge this information gap for precision agriculture, 10 companies offering precision ag solutions, along with media partner, CropLife Media Group, have come together to launch the PrecisionAg Institute.

The PrecisionAg Institute is an independent and neutral forum devoted to the sharing of precision agriculture practices, ideas, research, products, services and success stories. Its mission: to foster technology transfer, wider adoption and effective use of precision ag technology worldwide.

"We feel that adoption of precision agriculture is speeding up and new technology is being embraced more fully," says Paul Schrimpf, Group Editor of CropLife magazine. "If the industry wants to take advantage of this window of opportunity to effectively communicate with and educate this changing audience, it's time to think differently."

Schrimpf points to findings from the 2005 CropLife/
Purdue University Precision Agricultural Dealership Adoption Survey as an indicator of adoption opportunity. The research shows the estimated number of producers and dealers using precision services has doubled in the last five years and respondents think the next few years will see more rapid adoption, considering the rising costs of inputs such as fertilizer and seed.

The institute, Schrimpf says, will undertake a variety of integrated communications initiatives during the next 18 months, including the following:
• An extensive research project in row and specialty crops.
• The inauguration of the PrecisionAg Hall of Fame.
• Launch of the PrecisionAg Online Reference Library, which will house a permanent posting of technical reference materials in precision ag practices and products.

"By partnering with industry leaders, the institute should be able to provide up-to-date information, gather objective data, incorporate industry input, and provide answers to questions and technical guidance for precision ag users," says John Pointon, Mktg Mgr for OmniStar, one of the institute's founding partner companies.

According to Seth Crawford, Mktg Mgr of John Deere AMS, the Institute is a way to lead the discussion of precision agriculture adoption in the industry. "As new technology revolutionizes agriculture, it is very important to train and educate our customers on precision farming technology to help them gain even more value from their equipment," says Crawford.

The Institute will be managed by the staff of the CropLife Media Group at Meister Media Worldwide. The CropLife group represents decades of combined knowledge and expertise in the precision ag market, first with Farm Chemicals and Dealer PROGRESS magazines and then through, the PrecisionAg Buyers Guide, PrecisionAg Special Report and CropLife magazine. Ten Founding Partners, including AGCO Global Technologies, Ag Leader Technology, Case IH, John Deere, The Mosaic Co., OmniStar, Raven Industries, Micro-Trak, Rawson Control Systems and SST Development Group will be lending counsel and financial support.

"The institute is an association of leaders dedicated to educating the industry," says Al Strohmaier, Publisher of CropLife Media Group. "CropLife will be taking on the operational activities, but we will be counting on the founding partners and other industry leaders to be closely involved in all aspects of the initiative."

Strohmaier says this is an appropriate and valuable role a media partner can play in a knowledge-transfer initiative. "We're in constant contact with the audience. Our editors are in the flow of information everyday, so we will be able to bring ideas to the table and feedback the appropriate information to the audience that needs it."

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