The Music Of Precision Agriculture

More than 30 years ago, while cleaning out my grandparents’ attic, I came across a number of crystal radios in various stages of assembly. It appeared that my grandfather was intrigued with the new radio technology of the 1920s and had made several attempts at constructing a workable crystal set. What impressed me was all this effort to “hear the music.” Given the limited technology choices of his day, my grandfather committed time and money to a new technology that could receive music from some faraway place.

Very likely, the music heard over these pioneering units was barely audible and of poor quality, but it represented a successful effort nonetheless. In a matter of a decade after his initial trials and tribulations with this new radio technology, my grandfather could probably walk in a store and buy a unit that with the turn of a knob could provide reception as good as or better than anything he built.

The insight I got from seeing my grandfather’s extensive involvement with these early radios was his labor of love for new technologies. His working on that new frontier of radio technology and hearing the results of his labors were, for him, magical. Yes, the end goal of listening to music in the comfort of his home for the single price of a unit and a bit of electricity was undoubtedly a driving force, but being one of the first to do so was irresistible.

This fascination with new technologies was played out again some 60 years after radios with the introduction of personal computers. The same desire to “hear the music” — although the melody was now digital output — drove a later generation of technical enthusiasts to work with computer kits. And like the early crystal radios, the pioneers of the 1980s assembled the various components of a personal computer in order to see the magic of electronic text and calculations in their homes.

There was, however, a significant difference in the qualifications of individuals working on a radio vs. a personal computer. Compared to early radios, personal computers were, in a word, complicated. The knowledge needed to build a personal computer was significantly greater than that needed to build a radio. The trial and error approach used with early crystal radios was applicable to early personal computers only if individuals had a clear understanding of how the pieces fit together. Consequently, the people willing to put in the time and effort to make computer technology work were likely smaller in number compared to those fascinated with radios. And, inversely, the larger population of people who wanted to use but not build these early personal computers also wanted units that could be started with the equivalent of “turning a knob.” Thus, the desire for “user-friendly” systems became the mantra of the industry back then and today.

Fine-Tuning The Marketplace

The same magical force that drove individuals to become pioneers with radio and personal computers developed with precision agriculture. The same gradient between radio and personal computers is applicable between personal computers and precision agriculture technologies. Enthusiasts today are just as enamored with new technologies as their counterparts in the past, but they must have a greater working knowledge of these technologies to be successful in precision agriculture compared to personal computers or radios. In fact, radios and computers are part of today’s precision agriculture technologies.

Technologists in precision agriculture are more “integrators” than builders. The end goal of precision agriculture is not some stand-alone unit like a radio or personal computer, but rather an “integration” of technologies: an integration that can accommodate new innovations, such as those showcased in this issue, seamlessly. An integration that awards those individuals and companies that can bring technologies together in a user-friendly and cost-effective manner to support production decision-making and improved field practices.

The integration of precision agriculture technologies must not only address the needs of growers today, but also anticipate the needs of tomorrow. Advances in seed genomics, robotics, logistics tracking, traceability, in-field sensors, decision-support software, and other mechanical and informational technologies will take today’s integration to a new level. These advances, like the technologies of today, will demand individuals with the knowledge, skill, and experience to make precision agriculture a reality in the future.

In the end, it is always about the ability to “hear the music.” The “technology tune-up” theme of this issue is the melody of today’s precision agriculture. With the proper integration of new technologies, this melody can be the music of a profitable season for both the grower and the supporting cast of industry.

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