Defining Moment For Precision Agriculture

Back in my graduate school days, I had an astronomy professor who on the first day of a course asked each of us in class to define “dirt.” Not surprising, everyone in class had their own definition of dirt. Although, most thought dirt was slang for soil. If that was the case, then we next needed to define “soil.”

While there was a group consensus that soil had something to do with the material in the top layer of the earth’s surface, its composition was up for debate. Some defined it as unconsolidated debris above bedrock. Others defined soil as a mixture of minerals and organic matter above the regolith. Of course, either definition assumes everyone can define “bedrock” and “regolith.” If our common understanding of soil includes the “biological” weathering of material at the top of the earth’s surface in addition to its organic composition, then what is a “soil” on Mars?

Clearly, any reference to a Martian soil assumes the absence of biological material of any kind in our neighboring planet’s surface layer. We would conclude in the case of Mars that the definition of soil would be somewhat restricted, as compared to earth, due to the different parent materials and weathering processes.

This conclusion about a Martian soil was exactly the point of the exercise in defining dirt and soil in the astronomy class. The professor was trying to bring to light the perspectives in our understanding of what constituted a soil. All our knowledge and experience about soils at the time of the course was earthbound. Today, a handful of landers and robots have begun to explore a miniscule fraction of the Martian surface and we are beginning to think of soil on an extraplanetary scale.

Deepening The Definition

OK, so what does all this dirt and soil talk have to do with precision agriculture? Analogous to soils, our definition of precision agriculture is based on our knowledge of the embedded technologies and our experience in applying those technologies to agricultural production.

Precision agriculture began to become popular twenty years ago with the introduction of affordable geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS), which could “precisely” locate you on the earth’s surface with geographic coordinates. The early GIS/GPS definition of precision agriculture suited us well because everyone had so little knowledge and experience with any competing previous technologies. But with its current evolution over the ensuing years, our understanding and, hence, definition of what is precision agriculture has become more diversified and complex.

This evolving complexity of precision agriculture was very evident at the recent InfoAg 2009 conference and is exemplified by the technologies highlighted in this issue. Today, innovations in precision agriculture can be seen in the number of wireless sensors and equipment for vehicle tracking and for removing the necessity of hand-carrying media for software installation and data collection. They are evident in guidance systems, automatic steering, and in seed and spray precision applications. Innovations are also apparent in the abundance of desktop and web-based information technology (IT) solutions to support on-farm decision making.

Enter ‘Efficiency’

In the recent period of economic turbulence and rising production costs, another word has been sneaking into the definition of precision agriculture — “efficiency.” Growers are increasingly seeking technologies and practices that save time, material, and labor, while sustaining yields and net profits. These savings represent efficiency — getting the same or more output with less input. This new emphasis on efficiency in precision agriculture can be seen in the International Plant Nutrition Institute’s (IPNI’s) 4Rs for fertilizing forages: Right source, Right rate, Right time, and Right place. Precision technologies may be in one or more of the “Rs,” but collectively they represent efficiency in fertilizer management. Adding efficiency to precision agriculture technologies helps keep a grower competitive and economically viable in a changing world.

If efficiency is the watchword of precision agriculture today, then how does a grower choose among all the ever-increasing offerings? A grower must know precision technologies much like he or she knows soils in agricultural production. He or she must know the limits and practices of precision technologies in his or her operation just like knowing the limits and practices appropriate for a soil in a field. A grower should have evidence, either through research or a neighbor’s testimonial, that the adoption of a particular precision agriculture technology will be beneficial. Assuming a sustained production output, the efficiency of a particular adopted technology can be calculated in terms of savings, be it materials, labor, or time.

Over the years, as growers learned more about soils, the better managers they became. The same is true for precision agriculture. As growers learn more about precision technologies such as those featured in this issue, they will become more efficient managers. And like soils, precision agriculture will continue to redefine itself as we work with it over time.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Defining Moment For Precision Agriculture

Business Management Stories
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
Business ManagementMirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Most Trusted Ag Advisor of Them All?
April 4, 2017
Who is the most trusted ag advisor of them all? It’s a question I think we’ve all heard before, mind you 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
Trending Articles
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision Ag Means For Growers
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
Mung beans Australia
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Ag in a Tough Season in Australia
May 8, 2017
This year’s summer crop season has been a tough one for most growers in Australia. Prolonged periods of high temperatures Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’s Rob Berglund on Cognitive Computing
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Latest News
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Data ManagementData as Currency in Ag: We Aren’t There Yet
May 25, 2017
A hot topic in the precision ag revolution is the idea ag data will become a form of currency. Many Read More
Ag Tech GlobalSci-Fi in Ag: The Waging War of Plant-Internet Bots
May 25, 2017
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Food IT Fork-to-Farm
Hort TechThe Mixing Bowl Event Connects Technology, Food, and Ag…
May 24, 2017
For the fourth consecutive year, The Mixing Bowl presents FOOD IT, under the theme “Fork to Farm.” Action-oriented entrepreneurs, industry Read More
Nematodes in cotton
Ag Tech GlobalUsing Precision Agriculture to Manage Nematodes in Braz…
May 22, 2017
As promised in my first article, this month I am writing about some technical aspects related to the use of Read More
Farmers on Tablet Photo Credit All About Food
Professionals6 Keys of Successful Precision Agriculture Tools
May 17, 2017
As precision agriculture professionals we are frequently approached by companies that wish to partner with our organization in order to Read More
Hagie sprayer
GuidanceWhat’s New and What’s Next from Hagie Manufacturing
May 16, 2017
Many were surprised by John Deere’s announcement last spring that it had acquired majority ownership of Hagie Manufacturing Co., a Read More
Hortau Irrigation Management Software
Ag Tech GlobalHortau Commemorates 15 Years in Ag Tech
May 15, 2017
Today, Hortau celebrates its 15-year anniversary as one of the pioneers in the AgTech space, according to a press release Read More
Kip Tom
Ag Tech GlobalAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
Ag Tech Global2017 International Tomato Congress Features Ag Tech Ses…
May 11, 2017
The International Tomato Congress has taken place in Mexico since 2006. In 2017 it will celebrate its twelfth year as Read More
Ag Tech GlobalVenture Capital News: Aerial Imagery Outfit Garners $5 …
May 11, 2017
Ceres Imaging, an aerial spectral imagery and analytics company serving the agricultural sector, today announced it has raised a $5 Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision Ag Mea…
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
DronesSentera Phoenix Drone Nears Coveted 1,000 Acre Coverage…
May 11, 2017
Sentera introduces its Phoenix fixed-wing drone product line, with variants to support the precision agriculture, mapping, and public safety industries, Read More
Data ManagementClimate Adds Irrigation Data Analytics via HydroBio Acq…
May 9, 2017
Today, The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of HydroBio, an agriculture software company based in Read More
GuidanceTersus adds RTK-Based AutoSteer System to GNSS Offering…
May 8, 2017
Tersus GNSS Inc., a Chinese GNSS RTK manufacturing company, released its brand new AutoSteer solution recently. The AG960 AutoSteer System Read More
DronesAgEagle takes on the Big Boys with RX48 Fixed Wing Dron…
May 8, 2017
AgEagle Aerial Systems of Neodesha, KS, today announced a fixed wing drone for the use in precision agriculture that far Read More
Mung beans Australia
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Ag in a Tough Season in Australia
May 8, 2017
This year’s summer crop season has been a tough one for most growers in Australia. Prolonged periods of high temperatures Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
Decision Support SoftwareMZB Launching New Grid Tool, Updated Mapping Center
May 3, 2017
MZB Technologies has added an additional tool to its precision system. Known for its patented zone-based precision technology, MZB will Read More