Opinion: The Missing Link in Precision Agriculture

The agtech boom over the last two years is indeed astonishing. Farmers are becoming more open to new, emerging technologies and are more willing to adopt them.

Yield maps, VRA (Variable Rate Application), satellite imagery, and in-field sensors have been around for a while. Drone technology is a relatively new player that holds the potential to make a substantial transformation in the way in which data is being collected.

However, with so many new technologies and agtech companies that sprout up, there is still a missing link. Actually, there is more than one, but I would like to focus on one of the major missing links — decision making.

Many of the ag technologies today focus on precise application of fertilizer, pesticides, and water. Many others provide good solutions for obtaining real-time information from the field, such as growth status, water conditions, nitrogen status, stress caused by pest or disease, etc.

These can potentially help farmers make better decisions, by providing a higher quality or more accurate data. But in fact, the majority of today’s technologies provide only partial decision-making solutions and leave the decision to the farmer. Although this may sound very logical and straight forward, the end result of this situation is that the ability of such technologies to make a substantial impact on yield is limited.

For instance, growing in greenhouses is a well-established practice. The greenhouse is a controlled environment. Existing technologies allow for high precision in the application of water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Because of the small area, scouting and identifying problems in time is done easily and most growers scout the plants on a weekly basis. Moreover, growers have a wide range of flexibility in splitting the greenhouse area to smaller sections and control each section individually.

And yet, there is still so much room for mistakes. Very often, operating and calibration errors result in conditions that are far from optimal. Because of the vast number of parameters that must be taken into account when having to make a decision, growers tend to “go back to basics” and usually do not take full advantage of the technologies they already have at hand.

Furthermore, crop management decisions are complex and multi-dimensional, while most of the existing solutions only deal with one aspect of crop production.

To summarize, many good new ag technologies are becoming available today. The clear majority of them provide either sensing solutions or precise application of inputs. The missing link is what comes in between — decision-support tools — that can provide farmers and their advisers with both actionable and validated advice.

It seems that it will take some time and substantial research before such tools are developed and adopted by farmers.

Leave a Reply

6 comments on “Opinion: The Missing Link in Precision Agriculture

  1. Agreed, we have got wonderful tools to identify a problem , but to correct it in time is not so easy. Not enough experienced people willing to travel and examine the differences spotted. Produces not so willing to pay these specialists.

  2. Guy, you are absolutely right here! In the 70s & 80s my research team built a controlled environment facility and characterized the relationships between environment and crop physiological process rates. These were combined in predictive dynamic crop simulation models. For cotton the model was embedded in an expert (decision support) system that was used by approximately 150 farmers and extension people to manage irrigation, fertilization and crop termination. After retirement as a research scientist I consulted with large cotton farming operations in the application of this system. As you have noted decision making in managing a crop system involves too many interactions to be done without a predictive model. The mental models (used for thousands of years) can be greatly enhanced by the digital computer!

  3. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think it’s important for precision ag, in general, to admit that VR alone, does not hold all the data that is required to make decisions. In a retail custom application operation, there are multiple straight-rate passes across the field that applying products that carrying higher margins and boost yields just as much or more than traditional VR applications (fungicide or foliar feed are 2 examples). I’ll warn you, I’m about to plug a product – HighQ (www.agworks.net) – sorry about that, but folks need to check it out and start pulling in all relevant application data when they start thinking about decision making!

  4. Guy, you are quite correct about this gap…and it is not a gap that is going to be closed soon. An even greater gap exists between the often overhyped value of new technologies (by the purveyors) and the actual results obtained (by the users). The fact is most agricultural technologies are still little more than decision support tools in most cases. We are still a long, long way from rendering human judgment unnecessary or obsolete. When technology reaches the point that it can take into account a myriad of potential variables and can repeatedly pick the next Super Bowl champion before the season begins, or maybe even the score of a single game to be played in the season, we’ll still only be closer to perfecting a decision making system for agriculture.

  5. Guy, I have my doubts. What do you mean by “decision-support tools “? If you mean algorithms (AI) that analyze data and make decisions, then in my opinion and little experience, it might be dangerous because in agriculture we can control only a few number of variables. And, what’s more important, artificial intelligence lucks common sense, necessary to deal with varying environments. In my opinion the missing link in PA is: “Coaching” in order to train the farmer to make decisions using and interpreting information. On the other hand, if by “decision-support tools”, you mean generating recommendations by using algorithms as said before, I fully agree with you.

    1. Gabriel, I do refer to generating recommendations by using algorithms. I do believe, though, that AI will become much more dominant in agriculture in coming years, when data will be better validated and algorithms will have the power and the “know-how” to analyze it.

Decision Support Software Stories
Data ManagementREPORT: Bayer’s Digital Farming Business Slated for BASF Takeover
April 11, 2018
Germany’s Bayer plans to sell its digital farming business to BASF as part of changes to concessions it has offered Read More
Farmer and laptop
Decision Support SoftwareReport: U.S. Farm Management Software Market to Reach $1.62bn
April 9, 2018
Most farmers in America don’t currently use farm management software (FMS) – but that could change, fast. Working from data Read More
Farmer-Soybean-field
AmericasWillness: Building VRA Fertility Zones on Plant Biomass Alone is Short-Sighted
March 29, 2018
I posed a question in a twitter poll in order to raise awareness of how measurements of biomass from remote Read More
AmericasCommodity Classic 2018: Can’t Algorithm Agriculture (OPINION)
March 7, 2018
Once the annual end-of-winter blowout known as Commodity Classic wraps, it basically signals that we’ve reached go-time for agriculture. The Read More
Trending Articles
Farm-Storm-Clouds-Photo-Eden-Hills
Data ManagementThe Precipitation Problem in Agriculture
April 17, 2018
Precipitation is arguably the most important agricultural weather parameter, yet it is the most difficult variable to precisely measure. For 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
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Robotics/Labor SaversSpecialty Crops: Get in Gear Now for Agriculture’s Robotic Revolution
April 11, 2018
While the immigration debate rages on in Washington, DC, with little chance for reform in sight, the uncertain labor picture Read More
InSiteDCM
Business ManagementDelivering on Ag Data Value
April 3, 2018
Bruce Baier is another deeply experienced precision agriculture manager who survived the early years of ag technology while riding the Read More
University-of-Georgia-photo-credit-USDA
Business Management25 Best Colleges for Precision Agriculture
March 21, 2018
Choosing the right college is a process. It’s one that I’m just now embarking on with my teenage daughter. Long Read More
Farmer-tablet
Decision Support SoftwareOpinion: The Missing Link in Precision Agriculture
March 15, 2018
The agtech boom over the last two years is indeed astonishing. Farmers are becoming more open to new, emerging technologies Read More
Latest News
Finalists-teams-Syngenta-Crop-Challenge-in-Analytics
Data ManagementData-Driven Strategies and Machine Learning Shaping the…
April 26, 2018
Last week I attended the 2018 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research in Baltimore, MD. Among the activities Read More
Sentera-FieldAgent
Industry NewsSentera, The Climate Corp. Partner to Enhance Agronomic…
April 24, 2018
Climate FieldView customers can now enjoy seamless integration of Sentera FieldAgent on-field sensor and analytics products with FieldView, as well Read More
Field Sprayer
Sensors/IoTHere’s What’s Working with the Internet of Things ̷…
April 24, 2018
With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now seeing farmers use more wireless technologies to increase Read More
Case-Header-2
Industry NewsAustralian Company Offers On Combine Analysis Technolog…
April 24, 2018
Next Instruments is an Australian manufacturer of instrumentation for the grains and food industries. Over the last 5 years Next Read More
corn field
Industry NewsNutrient Ag Solutions Launching New Digital Farming Pla…
April 24, 2018
Nutrien’s retail division – soon to be rebranded as Nutrien Ag Solutions – has announced the launch of a new Read More
Industry NewsClimate Corp Announces 5 New FieldView Integrations
April 23, 2018
The Climate Corporation announced the addition of five industry-leading partners to The Climate Corporation’s Climate FieldView digital agriculture platform. The Read More
Laura_Crook_WinterWheat_Blackgrass_PrecisionAg
Industry NewsKansas Software Outfit Ag Developer Announces agX Integ…
April 23, 2018
Ag Developer, a Kansas based software development company, is simplifying grower/advisor communications by connecting to the agX Platform, according to Read More
field_in_back_1000_wd-featured-image
Industry NewsAyrstone Introduces High-Speed WiFi System for Farms
April 20, 2018
WiFi has become a necessity, and a proliferation of new WiFi devices have come to market for urban homes and Read More
Indian-Agriculture
AsiaIndian IoT Platform for Pre and Post Harvest Raises See…
April 19, 2018
Indian startup AgNext has raised an undisclosed seed round led by India-focused Agtech VC Omnivore Partners along with Singaporean angel Read More
Bayer-Forward-Farming
Industry NewsMaryland Farm Opens as Hub of Learning about Sustainabl…
April 19, 2018
Fourth-generation Maryland farmer Trey Hill measures the success of his operation not just by how many bushels of corn, soybeans, Read More
THRIVE
Industry NewsAgritech Startup Backers Announce New Corporate Partner…
April 18, 2018
Entering its fourth year, the THRIVE Venture & Innovation platform announced today the nine finalists and investment in its spring Read More
computer-in-field
EventsFinding Our Way in the Business of Precision Agricultur…
April 17, 2018
Service providers are the essential link between precision agriculture products and practices and the farmers who are increasingly relying on Read More
Farm-Storm-Clouds-Photo-Eden-Hills
Data ManagementThe Precipitation Problem in Agriculture
April 17, 2018
Precipitation is arguably the most important agricultural weather parameter, yet it is the most difficult variable to precisely measure. For 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 Serv…
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
Facebook-phone
Data ManagementWhat Lessons Can the Ag Industry Learn from the Faceboo…
April 12, 2018
Today, a seemingly endless amount of ag data flows from growers’ fields into a host of technology platforms. It is Read More
DronesWhen High Value Crops Meet Inaccessible Areas: How Dron…
April 12, 2018
Avocados are one of the few crops in Chile that can economically be commercially cultivated on hills. On one hand Read More
Almond-trees-blooming
Sensors/IoTWhy Virtual Sensors Could Save California’s At-Ri…
April 12, 2018
To say that the Golden State can lay claim to the title of king of almonds might be an understatement. Read More