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
Grower-Field-iPad-Connectivity-Photo-Credit-VLab
Business ManagementOpinion: Agtech Boom Is Yet To Come
December 6, 2017
Many agronomists, farmers, and VC groups monitoring the agtech world are proclaiming the startup boom is over. Investments are down, Read More
Blue River Tech See and Spray prototype in CA
Business ManagementIs the Agtech Startup Boom Over?
November 13, 2017
In the past few months there has been a flurry of acquisitions of agtech startups by major players in the Read More
Spray Drift
Business ManagementProtecting Your Business with Ag Data: What Dicamba Can Teach Us (Guest Column)
November 9, 2017
All over the country, in ag communities large and small, farmers are reporting crop damage, neighbors are fighting, lawsuits and Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
Trending Articles
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Africa/Middle EastPERSPECTIVE: Is Bayer’s Highly Anticipated xarvio App the Next Uber for Ag?
November 22, 2017
As many of our CropLife IRON readers might know, every summer at MAGIE we award the most popular product featured Read More
Used Combine
Service ProvidersFinding New Precision Ag Opportunities in Older Equipment
November 15, 2017
Whether to buy new or used equipment has been and continues to be an important topic for growers. When it Read More
Blue River Tech See and Spray prototype in CA
Business ManagementIs the Agtech Startup Boom Over?
November 13, 2017
In the past few months there has been a flurry of acquisitions of agtech startups by major players in the Read More
Spray Drift
Business ManagementProtecting Your Business with Ag Data: What Dicamba Can Teach Us (Guest Column)
November 9, 2017
All over the country, in ag communities large and small, farmers are reporting crop damage, neighbors are fighting, lawsuits and Read More
Latest News
Field
Decision Support SoftwareCeres Imaging Details New Pest, Disease Detection Produ…
December 12, 2017
Ceres Imaging, which provides science-backed aerial images to growers, will offer Midwestern corn and soybean farmers an early warning system Read More
Claas RTK Field base
Industry NewsCLAAS Taps Syncron for Cloud-Based Spare Parts Manageme…
December 11, 2017
Syncron, a provider of cloud-based after-sales service solutions, today announced CLAAS, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, has selected Syncron Inventory – Retail Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team i…
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
american-robotics-Scout-Drone
DronesAmerican Robotics Unveils Fully Autonomous Drone System…
December 7, 2017
American Robotics, an industrial drone developer specializing in agricultural automation, has unveiled its flagship product Scout. It is a self-charging, Read More
Industry NewsJohn Deere Upgrades Generation 4 Display Capabilities
December 6, 2017
John Deere has introduced its latest advanced guidance and machine data sharing technology with the addition of three new AutoTrac Read More
Grower-Field-iPad-Connectivity-Photo-Credit-VLab
Business ManagementOpinion: Agtech Boom Is Yet To Come
December 6, 2017
Many agronomists, farmers, and VC groups monitoring the agtech world are proclaiming the startup boom is over. Investments are down, Read More
Data ManagementAgritechnica 2017: Executives Discuss Europe Ag Tech Ad…
December 6, 2017
While North American growers slog through yet another season of depressed farm incomes and commodity markets, across the pond it’s Read More
Bitcoin-for-Agriculture-Source-TheJavaCoincom
Data ManagementWill Bitcoin Work in Agriculture?
December 5, 2017
If you checked the Internet lately, you’ve probably seen the words, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. I won’t describe them in Read More
Vineyard weeding Robot-Naio-Technologies
Robotics/Labor SaversRobots Are Coming for Your Crop Protection (and Other I…
December 5, 2017
The market for agricultural robotics market is small but burgeoning, and their impact is likely to be quite a bit Read More
John-Deere-Connect-Mobile
Service Providers10 New Mobile Apps for Precision Agriculture
December 5, 2017
Ag professionals continue to reap the rewards of new smartphone apps. And perhaps no segment of farming is benefitting more Read More
On-Farm-Trials-Brazil
AmericasOn-Farm Trials in Brazil: The Way to Improve Agronomic …
December 4, 2017
The idea of using on-farm trials to gather data about the performance of any crop input has been in place Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Longford-Silt-Foam-map
Data ManagementUnderstanding Precision Farming and Soil Morphology
December 4, 2017
The USDA Soil Conservation Service, now Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been charged with creating the country’s soil survey. This Read More
Spensa platform
Industry NewsSpensa Adds TerrAvion Aerial Imagery
December 4, 2017
Spensa Technologies announces today its partnership with TerrAvion, a California-based start-up that provides aerial imagery for agriculture. As customers of Spensa Read More
Industry NewsCase IH Announces Updated AFS Data Transfer Capabilitie…
December 4, 2017
Case IH has announced seamless data transfer capabilities between its Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) Connect farm management system and six Read More
Data ManagementCropLife: FBN CEO Appears at ARA 2017 Conference (Recap…
December 2, 2017
Right on the heels of news it has raised $110 million in a Series D funding round, Farmer’s Business Network Read More
Farmers Business Network, FBN Procurement
Data ManagementFBN Raises Record $110 Million Series D Venture Capital…
December 1, 2017
Farmers Business Network announced a $110 million Series D funding round, led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potenti…
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More