Precision Conservation: Using Precision Agriculture Technology To Optimize Conservation And Profitability In Agricultural Landscapes
USDA Farm Bill conservation programs provide landowner incentives to remove marginal lands from agricultural production and reestablish them to natural vegetation (e.g., native grasses, trees, etc.). However, removal of arable land from production imposes an opportunity cost associated with loss in revenue from commodities that otherwise would have been produced. Northern bobwhite (bobwhite) populations have shown a positive response to numerous conservation programs implemented in agricultural fields, particularly Conservation Practice 33 (CP-33), Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds. However, establishing conservation buffers on profitable farmland is not conducive to the economic objectives of most landowners. Strategic implementation of conservation programs such as CP-33 is essential to optimize environmental and economic benefits. We used precision agriculture tools (i.e., yield monitors, AgLeader and GIS software) to develop spatially explicit profit surfaces for soybean production fields in the Black Belt Prairie region of Mississippi. We averaged profit surfaces across three years and identified field regions where profitability under CP-33 exceeded that under commodity production. We also surveyed bobwhite populations on production fields with different amounts of CP-33 to develop predictive models for bobwhite abundance under varying CP-33 enrollments. We simulated alternative CP-33 enrollments, (30, 60, 90, and 120 ft), and compared whole field profitability and bobwhite abundance under whole field agricultural production and each alternative buffer width to spatially illustrate the economic and environmental advantages of strategic CP-33 establishment. Whole field profitability increased 69%, 60%, 47%, and 28% with a 120, 90, 60, and 30 ft CP-33 buffers respectively. Bobwhite abundance increased monotonically with increasing amounts of CP-33. Our results suggest that profitability and conservation objectives can be optimized in working agricultural landscapes by using precision agriculture technology. We illustrate to efficacy of precision agriculture as a tool for identifying conservation and economic opportunities in agricultural systems.