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
computer-in-field
Business Management3 Questions to Ask When Looking for Your First Job in Precision Agriculture
June 18, 2018
Let me begin this column by extending my congratulations to all of my fellow students who have just graduated – Read More
Grower-Laptop
Business ManagementOpinion: Stumpin’ for Rural Broadband
April 30, 2018
In 1936, deep in the throes of the Great Depression, the federal government moved forward with an initiative that would Read More
Digital-Farming
Business Management7 Factors That Could Make or Break Digital Farming
April 13, 2018
Digital farming is the new technology genie – a genie that is now out of the bottle and cannot be Read More
SDSU-drone
Business ManagementInside the Key Strategies For Selling Precision Ag Services
April 13, 2018
In its earliest manifestation, the motive for developing precision agriculture service was entirely pure. Agronomists knew that crops were responding Read More
Trending Articles
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
InfoAg ConferenceThe InfoAg Conference Offers Early Bird Registration Discount
May 24, 2018
Since 1995, The InfoAg Conference has been the premier event for discussion and advancement of precision agriculture. The event, organized Read More
Ernie-Chappell-Screenshot
EventsEFC Systems Sponsorship Demonstrates Commitment to Continuing Education for Retail Dealerships
May 16, 2018
Enterprise software manufacturer EFC Systems, scholarship sponsor of the inaugural PrecisionAg® Professional Accelerator professional development conference this June in Brookings, Read More
EventsMeister Media Debuts Growing Innovations
May 10, 2018
As a service provider, you and your grower customers probably can agree on this much: While innovation abounds in agriculture, Read More
UCANR_booth_Food_IT_forum
EventsForum Calling All Innovators of Agriculture Technology
May 2, 2018
The challenges that come with feeding the world continue to grow. Luckily, so do advances in information technology that are Read More
Latest News
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollinatio…
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
Farmer with iPad
Decision Support SoftwareAgrian Enhances Field Scouting App
June 18, 2018
Agrian has added a new feature to its robust field scouting app – a pest trap counting solution. The new Read More
AmericasMFA Precision Head Talks Precision Ag, Cover Crops at 2…
June 18, 2018
Although implicit to anyone that spends a good chunk of their career in agriculture, the link between advanced precision technology Read More
Iron Man
UncategorizedAgFunder News: Forget Self-Driving Tractors; Agricultur…
June 18, 2018
Marvel’s Iron Man suit might seem an unlikely source of inspiration for growers, writes Joseph Byrum on AgFunderNews.com. Once the Read More
Soil-Corn-plants-field
Data ManagementRemote Soil-Sensed Management Zones Help Increase Crop …
June 18, 2018
Accurate prescription maps are essential for effective variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer application. Grid soil sampling is frequently used to Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportu…
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
computer-in-field
Business Management3 Questions to Ask When Looking for Your First Job in P…
June 18, 2018
Let me begin this column by extending my congratulations to all of my fellow students who have just graduated – Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversStine Seed Plunks Down $5 Million on Smart Ag’s D…
June 14, 2018
Stine Seed Farm has invested $5 million in Smart Ag Inc., an Iowa technology firm that has developed a full Read More
David-Perry-featured-image
AmericasIndigo Touts ‘New Approach to Agricultural R&…
June 13, 2018
Indigo, the Boston-based microbial crop technology startup that has raised more than $400 million, announced it is expanding its research Read More
Ag Drone
EventsAgTech Conference of the South Dedicated to Innovation,…
June 12, 2018
Join current and emerging agtech business leaders and investors at the AgTech Conference of the South, a premiere conference dedicated Read More
Munckhof Machinefabriek equipment
EuropeEurope: Precision Farming at Heart of Munckhof Deal
June 11, 2018
One of Europe’s oldest suppliers of machinery used in fruit production, the Dutch firm Munckhof Machinefabriek, has been purchased by Read More
Australian-Farmers
Australia/New ZealandCrunching the Ag-Tech Numbers Saves Time for Australian…
June 5, 2018
Time management is key on the Walker family’s farm, where a mix between cropping, commercial sheep and two studs means Read More
Drone-exhbitor-at-Drone-Show
AmericasDroneShow Highlights UAV Technology in Latin America
June 4, 2018
Editor’s note: The DroneShow Latin America is an annual trade fair hosted by MundoGEO, a media and communications company founded Read More
Imagery/SensingImagery in Agriculture: Time for a Reality Check
June 4, 2018
Where do I begin….I’ve been dealing with imagery in agriculture since I was 10 when my dad started Satshot. At Read More
AmericasNAAA Issues Drone Pilot Reminder: Watch Out For Aerial …
May 31, 2018
With more than 1 million UAVs registered with the FAA, it is vitally important for UAV operators to be aware Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key t…
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Specialty CropsGrowingProduce.com: Fruit Growers, It’s Time to Mechani…
May 30, 2018
If you’re into conspiracies, you might be interested to know that I have stumbled onto a doozy. And it looks Read More
Service ProvidersDeere Launches Bale Mobile App with Hay and Forage Yiel…
May 30, 2018
John Deere introduces its Bale Mobile app to help hay and forage producers get detailed information, improve efficiency, identify bale Read More