New Technologies vs. Agronomic Knowledge in Precision Agriculture

As the days are getting longer and the temperature is starting to rise, Australian broadacre growers are gearing up for another summer crop season. The Australian winter has been extremely dry in most areas, with a lot of growers receiving no significant rainfall between March and October. This means that winter crop yields are down and prospects for dryland summer crop plantings are not looking good. However, irrigated growers are looking at decent amounts of water available in most major dams, and with prices of cotton and other commodities holding up, they are hoping for another good year.

One of many decisions that growers have to make pre-season this year, is how much “new technology” spending to budget on, and where exactly to use this budget. As the range of new technologies available to assist growers becomes longer and longer, the choice of which new technology to adopt becomes ever harder. Under new technologies, I categorize any technology that is available now but is not directly replacing another (older technology). Some examples include in-field sensors, NDVI images, and yield/soil maps. I have been reading a lot of opinions about the agronomist vs. new technology debate recently and whether these new technologies will replace agronomists. Can they really?

As growers generally only invest in those things that can make or save them money, how can new technology investments be rationalized? Are they expected to increase yields, decrease inputs, or maybe cut some other type of spending? One of the first metrics of any new technology that growers tend to look at in my experience, is the amount of work they will need to perform. Drones are a prime example of a technology that most growers only tend to use for ‘hobby’ usage or as a ‘nice to have’ — employing them for scouting or other purposes on scale simply takes more time than most can afford at this stage. However, as technologies become less labor intensive (e.g., more autonomous in the case of drones), adoption and usage will change as well.

The other question that often comes up when looking at any new technology together with a grower is: “so how will this save me money or which other cost does this allow me to cut out?” And often the answer is not as straight forward as the question. In the long run you might be able to save on certain inputs, for example, but in the short to medium term it often means that you target your inputs better, are able to make better decisions, or aim to improve yields. You might not be able to make a direct savings as such. A part of this discussion is the often heard phrase: “so if I get all this data I don’t need an agronomist anymore, right?” Although often jokingly said, the question arises more and more often, and where does the traditional agronomist fit in with technology?

I firmly believe that agronomists play a major role in any cropping operation and, notwithstanding all new technology available, that role is not about to get any smaller. Sure, with a lot of field sensors available, for example, it might become easier and quicker to scout certain field conditions. And other technologies such as moisture probes, NDVI imagery, and yield maps all provide a great snapshot of information to agronomists as well. But this information all still needs to be ground-truthed and analyzed. All the information a map shows needs to be verified and, taking in an enormous amount of other factors, the agronomist and grower have to make a decision.

We are a long way off, however, from having all this technology replace agronomists. Sure, it might make agronomists a lot quicker and more efficient in making certain decisions and yes, it might mean that agronomists will spend some more time in front of a computer. But the future where you have a large amount of IOT devices feeding data into a Big Data Cloud and an AI platform that makes the decisions for you, is not here yet. Will we get there? I am not sure, but most people didn’t know 30 years ago what they would be able to do with a smartphone in 2017 either, so nothing can be ruled out.

So which new technologies should a grower invest in and what are the expectations that growers can have with adopting them? Agronomists are well-placed to answer these questions. As they already have a close relationship with their growers, they will have a good idea of what might be needed to improve production and which technologies will fit well with the existing way of operating.

So no, your agronomist will not be doing your agronomy from his beach chair in the near future and yes, agronomists do welcome farmers investing in new technologies that enable them to make better decisions and improve production. I for one think that it is very exciting to see which metrics we will be able to collect reliable data on in the near future and how this will allow us to enhance our decision making process!

For more information, feel free to contact me on [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Australia/New Zealand Stories
Farmers Edge Truck
Africa/Middle EastFarmers Edge Aligns with PartnerRE to Streamline Crop Insurance Claims, Expand Access
February 13, 2018
Today Winnipeg-based FMIS giant Farmers Edge announced a partnership around crop insurance with Zurich-based PartnerRE. Although a bit short on Read More
Australia/New ZealandPrecision Ag Innovations: How to Find Real Dollars Among the Cryptocurrencies?
February 2, 2018
As we’re almost through the first month of 2018, the dryland cotton in Australia has battled some pretty difficult conditions: Read More
Australia/New ZealandAmazone Set to Release Weed-Detecting Sprayer in Australia
January 2, 2018
European farm machinery giant Amazone is set to release its UX trailed weed-detecting sprayer in Australia, which it says can Read More
Australia/New ZealandAg Data Management: Success Starts with a Common Platform
December 21, 2017
As the outside temperature regularly reads over 40 degrees Celsius, Australian cotton growers have again reached one of the busiest Read More
Trending Articles
Industry NewsNFMS 2018: Case IH Talks Autonomous Agriculture, Announces Pilot Program
February 20, 2018
Since the reveal of the autonomous concept vehicle, Case IH has been evolving the technology and further defining automation and Read More
AsiaCloud-based Irrigation Could Double India’s Crop Yield and Halve Water Use
February 12, 2018
A cloud-based, micro-irrigation system tested on a farm in India has cut water use by up to 80%  and doubled Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentAutonomous Tractors Could Work in Wetter Conditions than Traditional Tractors
February 8, 2018
March 20th is the first day of spring, making spring much closer than even I expected. On the farm I Read More
AmericasPrecision Farming Companies to Watch in 2018 (OPINION)
January 17, 2018
My friends, as many of you told me repeatedly throughout the last 12 months, 2017 was an interesting year in Read More
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season Maintenance Goes A Long Way
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Latest News
Events12 Groundbreaking AgTech Startups Selected to Pitch at …
February 22, 2018
AgLaunch is bringing its Startup Station pitch event back to the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show for a second time Read More
Industry NewsDeere Garners Ag Data Transparency Certification
February 22, 2018
John Deere announces it has received the American Farm Bureau Ag Data Transparent (ADT) certification, which verifies to producers that Read More
Sentera drone
DronesSentera Launches Micro Gimbal Upgrade for DJI Phantom 4…
February 22, 2018
Sentera today announced the availability of a Micro Gimbal upgrade for Sentera Single sensors mounted on the popular DJI Phantom Read More
AmericasNFMS 2018: Precision Farming, Ag Tech Developments from…
February 21, 2018
Last week’s annual National Farm Machinery Show (NFMS) in Louisville, KY, was this author’s first experience attending the mid-winter Midwest Read More
Specialty CropsMaximize the Benefit of New Farm Technology
February 21, 2018
We have access to technology and information as never before. Working with vineyards in Virginia, I see examples of growers Read More
Industry NewsCropMetrics Names New CEO
February 20, 2018
CropMetrics, a leader in smart irrigation services in the U.S., and developer of the Virtual Optimizer software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, has Read More
Specialty CropsHow Wireless Technology Found its Way to a Central Cali…
February 20, 2018
At first glance, the story of Fybr isn’t an unusual one: a technology company looks toward U.S. agriculture as a Read More
AmericasAg Tech News: Mavrx Opens Satellite Platform to Entire …
February 20, 2018
The team at San Francisco, CA-based Mavrx has announced an initiative to increase access to advanced decision support tools in Read More
Industry NewsNFMS 2018: Case IH Talks Autonomous Agriculture, Announ…
February 20, 2018
Since the reveal of the autonomous concept vehicle, Case IH has been evolving the technology and further defining automation and Read More
Sensors/IoTWhy Are Service Providers Slow to Adopt Crop Sensors fo…
February 20, 2018
Recently, we have seen important discussions about key aspects of precision agriculture. One of these articles, about the value in Read More
Industry NewsUnderstory Patents Solid State Weather Sensor
February 16, 2018
Understory today announced that it received a patent for its mechanical strain-based weather sensor, a key component in its weather Read More
Retailer Grower
Business ManagementAgriculture and Technology: Industry Progress Lies in C…
February 16, 2018
Water is essential for agriculture. While this may seem obvious, nowhere is it more apparent than the Sonoran Desert of Read More
Industry NewsAgtegra Cooperative Pledges $500,000 to SDSU Precision …
February 15, 2018
Agtegra Cooperative, Aberdeen, SD, today in Pierre announced a $500,000 donation to South Dakota State University for the Precision Agriculture Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
Business ManagementThe Importance of Teamwork for Successful Precision Ag …
February 15, 2018
Interdependency is defined as the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other. I’m not a huge sports Read More
Data ManagementAgriculture Impacts Weather: The Case for Connected Eco…
February 15, 2018
It’s fascinating to see how modern technology has helped us increase our agricultural productivity in areas not otherwise suited for Read More
Adapt-N VRT
Decision Support SoftwareDTN Partners with Adapt-N to Provide Weather and Nitrog…
February 14, 2018
DTN has announced a partnership today at the National Farm Machinery Show with Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC), a Yara International Read More
Corn close up
Imagery/SensingSyngenta Acquires Satellite Imagery Provider FarmShots
February 14, 2018
Syngenta has acquired FarmShots, Inc., a North Carolina-based innovator of high-resolution satellite imagery that detects plant health by analyzing absorbed Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentMachine Learning: The Secret Sauce of Precision Agricul…
February 13, 2018
With the development of agricultural technologies, crop and plant diseases have been advancing as well, causing degradation of both quality Read More