Opinion: Reality vs. Hype in Precision Agriculture

I think there is a certain word that can accurately describe much of the precision ag and/or ag tech industry right now. That is hype. Many are overhyping the possibilities and what can be done or even how it will save the industry and usher in ag 2.0. The reality is that we are a long, long way from that happening. And while everyone is saying it’s crucial because the world needs to feed itself by 2050, I’m pretty sure we can almost do that now. We just waste a lot and half of it all is used for animal feed or fuel. That’s important, but there are issues there, too.

Also, why does ag need to be saved? I hear that a lot. I’m pretty sure it’s the oldest industry in the world and it’ll be fine as long as we are careful and are stewards of the land. Maybe I’m just cynical, but everyone claiming that precision agriculture is the answer to solving the world food equation is crazy to me. It is not as simple as that. Sure, it’s a needed item, but there are so many other pieces to the puzzle.

thomas-the-tank-engine-there-are-no-breaks-on-the-hype-trainTechnology is a tool. So much like in the rest of the world if you want to make something easier, you use a tool. Think of a hammer and a nail instead of hand and nail. The problem is that precision ag, while a tool in agriculture, does not make things easier. Well, at least is hasn’t yet, except for autosteer and row-shutoffs. Sure, there are great things precision ag can do for people, farms, and the industry, but it hasn’t been easy. Also, I think many people are confusing precision ag with site-specific ag, and algorithms with agronomy. Others are now throwing genetics and biologics into the mix in precision ag. I mean I get it. They all have technology involved with them and some level of precision, but lumping it all together is not smart to do. It is not fair to this specific industry.

If you really want to confuse this industry, just tell them that everything has to have precision ag technology in it, which is exactly what is happening. It is such a bland statement that it suggests if there isn’t precision ag technology involved, it’s worthless or pointless. Put it in and it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Now that sentiment is what is confusing people. I’m pretty sure that the majority of agriculture in this world is still running off of “technology” that is 20-50 years old, maybe more. There is nothing wrong with that, and to be honest, it is the only way some can survive. In reality, this precision tech has been going on forever, if you look at it correctly. We’ve always become slowly more precise in ag. We just haven’t called it that. It really can just become technology and throughout time, ag technology has always evolved and advanced in a variety of different forms, fashions, timelines, and ways.

The steel plow, steam power, combines, air seeders, planters, sprayers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, anhydrous and man-made fertilizers, plant breeding, genetics, GMOs, GPS, GIS, etc……. I could go on and on, but each one of these was just as amazing and technologically advanced as the next one in the minds of the grower. Precision ag is surely a part of this, but we need to be careful about how precision ag is explained since it can mean a lot of things. For instance, using the term “mechanized agriculture” describes most of the list above, yet many of those advances did not happen at the same time and are not directly related for where they were useful. This is why we need to separate the explanation and reasoning behind precision ag and figure out what is the real technology behind it and not the hype that may surround it.

So, what is the hype all about then? Basically, what I’m seeing more of is the old snake oil game with “I have an idea, tell everyone it is awesome with no evidence, give me money, get customers, bail out, and go to the next area.” This is where ag technology today is going it seems, instead of the the old “I’m going to build it and keep making it better while putting everything I know into it because I believe in it.” Now this isn’t going on everywhere, but growers and companies are being threatened by the “look at this shiny object” world and it can be scary.

The reality is that most are tired of trying and hearing it all and have bigger concerns to deal with now than using these hyped technologies. I hear it everywhere. It goes like this: “Well, we bought this service and it seemed good, but then they didn’t deliver and it brought us and the grower no actual insights that we didn’t already know, and it wasn’t really actionable to make a difference.” Or this one: “They claimed an ROI and yield increase of this and while we knew it was BS, we still tried it. Now we just don’t trust that process or others like it, so we’ll just do what we did before. That seemed to work fine.” Unfortunately, this is becoming a constant. It reminds me of the stories I heard about hundreds of tractor manufacturers from the start of the machinery revolution in ag in the early ’20s. So many to choose from, but only a few made it and many failed because they over promised and under delivered.

This issue is concerning to me since there are some groups that seem to be excelling in precision ag that have these hyped traits, and fortunately for them, have a ton of money behind them and crazy marketing budgets. Some force you down their path without caring about the aftermath that was left behind. What happens is the local groups and smaller service providers have to pick up the pieces and deal with re-educating growers on how to really use precision ag technology, what it really costs, and what it really can do to benefit the farm. That process can take years. I’ve experienced it personally and it sucks. I’m just not sure if we can prevent this issue from continuing.

What do we do then? I’m not sure if I have the answer anymore because with the current consolidation and prices in ag, it is very hard to fight against a hyped and well-funded idea or company. Marketing and hype sells, and the more you have the better it seems companies can make it. This is happening everywhere in all industries. Heck, maybe in the end it’s a good thing, I don’t know. But I do know that while some are trying to disrupt agriculture using bad numbers, hype, influence, and just unrealistic data or solutions, there are plenty of great people out there that see this and will stand up against it. Precision ag is important and a great tool and there are plenty out there doing good things with it. We need to be careful though in how it is portrayed, explained, and what it can actually do in today’s world.

Basically, everyone in this industry needs to do what we’ve always done. Find the ones that actually innovate and support them, be it a new or old idea. That is where all of the technology came in ag and where it will continue to come from if we all get behind it correctly. Let’s separate the reality from hype so we can move forward. That’s the path I’m going to take, will you?

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Opinion: Reality vs. Hype in Precision Agriculture

  1. Ranch Systems has been a steady provider of high tech telemetry supporting our customers monitoring and control needs across their farming operations. Our steady market growth is a result of our quality products and data management/alerting solutions and the fact that our customers know we are going to be here for them today and in the future. We hear the same that you reference above all the time from new customers. Thank you, Nathan, for the thoughts!

Business Management Stories
Univ.-of-Illlinois-Palmer-in-soybean1
Business ManagementOpinion: How to Leverage Precision Agriculture to Launch Your Aggressive, High-Pressure Telemarketing Business
August 14, 2017
To continue where my last article left off (which you can check out here), a precision ag company that specializes Read More
Corn
Business ManagementCrop Pro Insurance Closes $8 Million in Series A Funding
August 8, 2017
Crop Pro Insurance today announced the close of an $8 million Series A round of financing co-led by top agriculture Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Field-sunset
Business ManagementOpinion: Are We in a Precision L-Ag Moment?
August 1, 2017
Yes, you read that headline right. I said Precision Lag, as in I have this feeling we are in the Read More
Trending Articles
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Wade-Barnes
Excellence AwardsBuilt By Agronomists: 2017 Award Of Excellence Winner Wade Barnes on the Making of Farmers Edge
August 2, 2017
Farmers Edge President And CEO Wade Barnes reflects on the process of building his company, shortly after receiving the Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award during the InfoAg Conference in July. Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg 2017 Recap: Service Providers Take Center Stage
July 28, 2017
As I sit here and ponder just what it was that we all experienced last week, off the top of Read More
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementBeck’s Builds Out ‘Freemium’ FMIS Off…
August 17, 2017
Beck’s today announced the release of several new tools available in their precision farming service, FARMserver, which enhances farmers’ ability Read More
Israel-Irrigation-system-featured-image
InternationalIsraeli Precision Ag Companies Lead in Water Use Effici…
August 16, 2017
In the last week, AgriHub, formed by farmers and consultants from Brazil, visited 10 Israeli agribusiness companies, including the Ministry Read More
Gregoire-tractor
ProfessionalsMechanization Key to the Future of Vineyard Management
August 15, 2017
Precision technology moves at different speeds across different segments of agriculture. For example, technologies like curve compensation, precision spraying, and Read More
Area-of-Interest-Web-Soil-Survey-screenshot
Data ManagementSignificant Updates Made to SoilWeb, Web Soil Survey Pr…
August 15, 2017
Agronomic professionals and technicians dealing with precision farming must understand the soils within the field before writing effective prescriptions.  A Read More
Univ.-of-Illlinois-Palmer-in-soybean1
Business ManagementOpinion: How to Leverage Precision Agriculture to Launc…
August 14, 2017
To continue where my last article left off (which you can check out here), a precision ag company that specializes Read More
Industry NewsFarm Dog Inks Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement with USD…
August 14, 2017
Farm Dog, a pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has entered into a Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement (NFCA) Read More
Lisa-Prassack-Photo-Credit-Weekly-Times-Now
InternationalAgtech: What the Umbrella Term Really Means
August 10, 2017
Acclerator, incubator, start-up, connectivity — the buzzwords of the digital age can be clear as, well, mud, writes Alex Sampson Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementJanzen: Data to Play Key Role in Sorting Out Dicamba Di…
August 10, 2017
You would have to live under a rock to not have heard about farmers’ issues with dicamba this growing season. Read More
New-Zealand-Precision-Ag-Tour
InternationalNew Zealand Study Tour to Demonstrate Recent Advances i…
August 10, 2017
If you’re interested in an intense, week-long immersion in the use of high-tech products and practices in New Zealand agriculture, Read More
Data ManagementDuPont Acquires Ag Tech Startup Granular for $300 Milli…
August 9, 2017
DuPont announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a provider of software and Read More
EventsSDSU Prof to lead Profit-Focused Panel at Upcoming Inno…
August 9, 2017
Convening a day prior to this summer’s Farm Progress Show at the I Hotel in Champaign, IL (about an hour’s Read More
AGCO White planter 9800VE
ProfessionalsAGCO Crop Tour 2017 Features Precision Planting Add-Ons
August 8, 2017
Higher yields and greater returns are the ultimate goals for crop producers. To help corn growers better understand the role Read More
Corn
Business ManagementCrop Pro Insurance Closes $8 Million in Series A Fundin…
August 8, 2017
Crop Pro Insurance today announced the close of an $8 million Series A round of financing co-led by top agriculture Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agricultur…
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Satshot imagery
Imagery/SensingImagery in Agriculture: Some Sage Advice
August 6, 2017
SatShot President Lanny Faleide has been a fixture on the remote imagery scene for as long as about anyone still Read More
Blue-River-See-Spray-technology
ProfessionalsHow Blue River’s See & Spray Technology Could Chang…
August 5, 2017
The blistering West Texas heat rocketing towards triple digits, the affable cotton grower trudged across his dusty field and approached Read More
Grower Services & Solutions2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part II
August 4, 2017
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part II of Tim Norris’ Yield Monitor Calibration checklist, Part I of which was published in Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More