Adoption of Precision Agriculture in Alberta Irrigation Districts with Implications for Sustainability


  • Dr. Lorraine A Nicol Department of Economics University of Lethbridge
  • Dr. Christopher J Nicol Department of Economics University of Lethbridge


To fulfill worldwide food requirements in the future, agriculture production will need to increase significantly. However, given the stress agriculture places on the environment, production must also be sustainable. A new suite of agricultural technologies commonly referred to as precision agriculture (PA) has been found to improve farming efficiency and environmental sustainability. This study
focuses on the adoption of PA on irrigated farms in southern Alberta. Through irrigation, southern Alberta has become amongst the most fertile and productive agricultural regions in Canada. Alberta is also recognized for its entrepreneurial and progressive farm culture and practices. This economic and cultural environment may provide fertile ground for the adoption of PA technologies. In
a survey of farmers in three irrigation districts in Alberta, we explore whether we see high rates of PA adoption. In exploring farmer and farm characteristics, we expect to find: (a) adoption leaning towards more advanced PA technologies; (b) the use of PA technologies leaning towards specialty crop production; (c) PA technology adoption to be negatively related to age; and (d) PA technology adoption to be positively related to both farm size and education. Finally, we expect there to be significant differences in farmer and farm characteristics across the three irrigation districts, owing to differences in cropping patterns and climatic variables. Our findings show no district embodies all the farm and farmer characteristics we expected. But, as expected, within districts and across districts, there are statistically significant differences in many of the characteristics studied. Consolidating and comparing the results leads to interesting profiles of the districts, where one district is relatively distinct and the two others are relatively similar; and consistent across all districts are the positive indicators for agricultural sustainability relative to farmers’ estimates of reduced inputs of irrigation water, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, as a result of the use of PA technologies.

Keywords: precision agriculture, irrigation, agriculture, technology, Alberta

Author Biographies

Dr. Lorraine A Nicol, Department of Economics University of Lethbridge

Senior Research Associate Department of Economics

Dr. Christopher J Nicol, Department of Economics University of Lethbridge

Professor of Economics