Adopting Precision Farming Practices Can Help Make Agriculture More Resilient

One of the most important and least appreciated concepts in agriculture is “resilience.” Resilience is the antidote to risk. Of the many definitions, the European Commission (EC) has probably the broadest one that has application to agriculture.

According to the EC, resilience is defined as the “ability of an individual, a household, a community, or a region to withstand, to adapt, and to quickly recover from stresses and shocks.” This definition explicitly emphasizes the importance of spatial scale when discussing resilience and implicitly acknowledges the temporal aspect when referring to adaptation and recovery. The definition introduces the important concepts of “stress” and “shock.” Stress, in the present discussion, refers to any phenomena that slows or suspends a particular agricultural practice, while shock stops the same practice. In other words, stress makes a certain endeavor more difficult, while shock makes the same endeavor impossible.

A couple of examples may help to understand the difference between stress and shock and why they are the basis for discussing resilience. A heavy rain may suspend (stress) a particular operation in a field during a growing season, while a flood (shock) would likely destroy a crop. The selected removal (stress) of a few trees in a landscape may slightly impact an ecosystem, while deforestation (shock) would destroy the same ecosystem.

Before tackling how a grower can respond to stress or a shock, it may be instructive to discuss the spatial and temporal aspects of these concepts. The scale of one phenomenon may disrupt the ability of an individual to perform an operation, but have little or no impact on the larger, surrounding community. The scale of another phenomenon may reach far beyond an individual. For example, if the vehicle of an individual breaks down, the surrounding community is still able to drive on the roads. If a bridge fails, the driving ability of a greater number of individuals would be affected in the same community. If there was a severe earthquake, transportation with a vehicle would be impacted across many communities in a state.

Long- Vs. Short-Term

The temporal scale is just as important as the spatial scale. A short-lived, isolated phenomenon that disrupts some practice is very different then a phenomenon that persists over a long time. For example, growers can deal with a dry spell over a matter of days but a prolonged drought can not only destroy a crop in a given season but also jeopardize farming in the upcoming years. This is exactly the situation in California where the agricultural industry is changing due to dwindling water supplies from an ongoing regional drought.

As defined, resilience is the ability to withstand, adapt, and to quickly recover from stresses and shocks. Withstanding stresses and shocks is a function of vulnerability. Everyone in agriculture is aware that a fallow field exposed to a heavy rain is more vulnerable to water erosion than a field covered with a crop. Similarly, everyone knows that rotating crops can make a field less vulnerable to the buildup of pests, provide better soil structure, and improve nutrient cycling in soils. By choosing practices wisely, a farming operation can withstand a number of biotic and abiotic stresses. However, if a shock is severe enough, then a grower must look to adaptation and recovery as a strategy.

The ability to adapt and recover from stresses and shocks is routed in an understanding of one’s vulnerability to some phenomenon and the odds of it occurring in a given future period. Some examples may illustrate the interplay of adaptation and recovery to some disruptive phenomena. If high winds are a recurring problem every year for a field, then the building of a wind barrier may be justified because of production losses. The protection of a field from high winds is an adaptation to a known vulnerability. If a crop is vulnerable to early spring freezes in one out of every two years, than a later planting with a shorter-season variety may make for a more resilient production practice. If hail is a frequent risk with catastrophic yield loss, then purchasing hail insurance is a form of monetary recovery to the shock. Replanting could be considered a recovery mechanism when a first planting is washed out by heavy rains.

Recognizing Diminishing Returns

Growers intuitively know that when implementing a resilient practice there is a point of diminishing return between the cost of the practice and the anticipated loss in production. That is, the implementation of proactive solutions to reduce the risk of stress or shock comes with a cost that may be greater than doing nothing. Again, the choice for implementing a new practice for a more resilient operation has to do with the frequency of the threatening phenomenon over a future period. If a catastrophic loss or shock occurs once in every 20 years, than the best recovery strategy may be simply to put money aside or buy an insurance policy for that future occurrence.

In some rare cases, a location may be vulnerable to a future shock that is so infrequent that many generations could pass before its occurrence. In fact, the shock is so infrequent there is no practical recovery plan for a social infrastructure that was put in place before the awareness of the risk. A classic case of such a future shock is the Cascadia earthquake risk due to a subduction zone in the Northwestern U.S. The Cascadia earthquake returns on average every 243 years with the last major event occurring on 1,700 A.D. based on proxy data. Seismologists estimate that there is between a one-in-three and one-in-10 chance for a mega earthquake (greater than 7.0 on the Richter scale) in the next 50 years. Because of the vulnerability of the existing infrastructure, recovery planning is focused on saving lives rather than property. While unanticipated future shocks are rare in agriculture, they still warrant a secondary consideration in a recovery plan if only for the safety of individuals.

Planning for the upcoming season should include a review of farm-level vulnerabilities to stresses and shocks and the adoption of possible practices to minimize their impact on production. A number of these practices could be drawn from technologies offered in precision agriculture. The inclusion of precision agricultural practices would contribute to making agriculture more resilient.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Adopting Precision Farming Practices Can Help Make Agriculture More Resilient

Hort Tech Stories
Hort TechSciFi in Ag: Robots Could Take Multi-Hybrid Planting Next Level
March 23, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Valley Irrigation 8000 series corn
Hort TechValley Irrigation Now Exclusive OEM Provider of Trimble’s Irrigate-IQ
March 21, 2017
Valley Irrigation and Trimble announced that Valley Irrigation will become the exclusive OEM distributor of Trimble’s Irrigate-IQ precision irrigation solution, according Read More
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
IMPAC video
Hort TechHow Precision Agriculture Is Helping Farmers Win Over Consumers
March 14, 2017
“Your Food, Your Farmer” is a simple mantra, but one that resonates loudly with many of today’s consumers, writes Paul Read More
Trending Articles
Bruce Rasa corn AgVoice app
Data ManagementVoice-To-Data Tool Shows Promise For Scouting
March 24, 2017
See it, speak it, record it. No pens, no paper, no lost information. In a nutshell that’s what Bruce Rasa Read More
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
Nebraska Farmer
Business ManagementA Right To Repair: Why Nebraska Farmers Are Taking On John Deere And Apple
March 10, 2017
There are corn and soy fields as far as the eye can see around Kyle Schwarting’s home in Ceresco, NE, Read More
Australia crop
Ag Tech GlobalMaking Precision Agriculture Work In Australia
March 6, 2017
Editor’s note: Reinder Prins is Market Development Manager for Cotton Growers Service in Wee Waa, NSW, Australia, where he is Read More
ScoutPro | ScoutPro
Decision Support Software17 Field Scouting Apps For Precision Agriculture
February 6, 2017
There are dozens of easy-to-use mobile apps that are ideal for every day field scouting tasks. From record keeping and Read More
John Deere Dealership
Business ManagementAg Retailer, Equipment Dealer Improve Service By Working Together
January 27, 2017
Some believe that in many aspects of life, timing is everything. Among those believers, please count Randy Bartholomew, Integrated Solutions Read More
Latest News
Spray Drift
Data ManagementWeather Imposes New Time Restraint On Safely Spraying D…
March 28, 2017
Dicamba drift is causing an uproar and exposing the ag community to a new reality: growers are going to have Read More
Plantium VADER
Ag Tech GlobalCase Study: How Atlas Correction Service is Positioning…
March 27, 2017
Plantium in Santa Fe, Argentina, is a full-service provider of precision agricultural guidance systems to some of Argentina’s largest farming Read More
Becky Huttenga featured image
Tools & Smart EquipmentAgtech Grows In Michigan
March 27, 2017
Michigan is more famous for its car industry, great lake, and big 10 universities than it is for agriculture. But Read More
Davie Stephens combine
Data ManagementData Ownership: A Cautionary Tale
March 25, 2017
Davie Stephens, who lives in Hickman County, KY, farms more than 5,000 acres in Western Kentucky and Northwestern Tennessee. Stephens Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
PrecisionAg Institute9 Rules For Success As A Trusted Advisor
March 24, 2017
With support from the partner organizations of the PrecisionAg Institute, Millennium Research conducted a survey of 215 farmers from around Read More
Bruce Rasa corn AgVoice app
Data ManagementVoice-To-Data Tool Shows Promise For Scouting
March 24, 2017
See it, speak it, record it. No pens, no paper, no lost information. In a nutshell that’s what Bruce Rasa Read More
Farmer with iPad
Data ManagementRegaining Control Of Field Data
March 23, 2017
When it comes to creating and building value with farmer-customers, service providers today have new allies to support their efforts. Read More
Y-Drop 360 Yield
Tools & Smart EquipmentSplit Nitrogen Application: Where The 4Rs Get Real
March 23, 2017
When Illinois Grower Jeremy Wilson hit the farm conference circuit these past two years, one of his talks was always Read More
Hort TechSciFi in Ag: Robots Could Take Multi-Hybrid Planting Ne…
March 23, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Erich Eller ForeFront Ag Solutions with Ag Eagle-drone
Business ManagementForeFront Ag Solutions: Going Beyond The Averages
March 22, 2017
He’s flying essentially solo these days with business support from his wife Jennifer, but Erich Eller has big dreams for Read More
Ag Tech GlobalFarmobile Continues Connecting the Dots, adds Buyer to …
March 21, 2017
Farmobile announced today that Guy Carpenter, a global risk and reinsurance specialist, will purchase enhanced data sets to help optimize Read More
Valley Irrigation 8000 series corn
Hort TechValley Irrigation Now Exclusive OEM Provider of Trimble…
March 21, 2017
Valley Irrigation and Trimble announced that Valley Irrigation will become the exclusive OEM distributor of Trimble’s Irrigate-IQ precision irrigation solution, according Read More
Farmer Brad Hagen inspects cover crops
Business ManagementTop 5 Features Of A Good Sustainability Program
March 20, 2017
In a recent study, 60% of Iowa farmers agreed that their fertilizer dealers should do more to help them address Read More
Soil sampling Brazil
Ag Tech GlobalAn Overview Of Precision Ag In Brazil
March 17, 2017
Brazil is a huge player in international agriculture and precision farming is helping to increase productivity. With diverse crop production, Read More
Web Soil Survey soils map
Imagery/SensingCan The Web Soil Survey Help To Uncover Answers To Prec…
March 16, 2017
A farming magazine recently published an article of an interview of two experts discussing how understanding the topography of a Read More
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They L…
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
Ag Retailer and Growers with tablet WinField United
Data ManagementEliminating Human Error In Precision Ag Data Documentat…
March 15, 2017
As precision ag consultants, we spend a lot of time working with clients to implement best management practices to acquire Read More
Curve Compensation ExactEmerge
ProfessionalsHow To Avoid Yield Loss Using Curve Compensation
March 15, 2017
Planting is often considered the most important step in a farming operation. For this reason, there have been many advancements Read More