Has The Term “Precision Ag” Run Its Course?
It’s something that has come up a number of times during my 15-year career as purveyor of ag technology coverage. Al McQuinn, the CEO of Ag-Chem Equipment who financed the finishing touches on what would become Soilection technology in the 1990s, would share his opinion on it with anyone who would listen.
While I won’t attempt to fashion a direct quote, it went something like this: “I don’t like the term ‘precision agriculture.’ What we’re really doing is ‘site-specific’ agriculture, applying technology and best practices to the variations of individual fields.”
It was not a terminology battle he was going to win … in my humble opinion, because “precision” is a more marketable word. And it’s not like the word doesn’t apply at all. When we use technology on the farm, it is indeed for the purpose of being more precise about what we apply and how we apply it.
And the term has served us well as a way to identify improved practices and technology adoption over the past two decades. But there seems to be a growing call for an evolution to a different term for the “movement.” I think there are a few reasons for that.
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First, nearly every grower in the US can claim to be using some measure of technology, be it auto steering, boom section control, variable-rate application, wireless data transfer … are all these farmers now “precision farmers?” In my mind the answer is ‘no,’ they need to be doing more than that.
Second, with so many pieces of precision hardware out there collecting so much data, the emphasis is shifting from the big screens and shiny rigs to, “what do I do with all this information?” This is great, because it’s what manufacturers and consultants have been wanting for years – a grower who’s ready to take the next step.
Which gets us back to the term ‘precision.’ Growers, retailers and consultants seem to perceive it as meaning everything and nothing at the same time.
We decided to do a little informal survey in this eNewsletter last week, and the responses were interesting. Nearly 40% of respondents consider the term ‘precision’ to be misleading, asserting that we need another name. Just over 30% feel that the term is not a true reflection of the “movement” but at this point, it’s the best we have. The other 30% feel that ‘precision’ is a fair and accurate description.
Personally, even though I have “skin in the game” as the lead content guy at PrecisionAg.com, I lean towards it not truly capturing what’s going on in ag technology today. In part, I think it’s because I’ve been in it so long, and I know that things are evolving toward data, and that technology is increasingly being integrated (as to become more invisible) over time, eventually becoming standard practice on the farm. But I still see value in retaining a specific identity for best practices in ag technology, at least for now.
I’ve been gravitating toward the term “smart agriculture” myself, but I’m interested in what you have to say. Please share some comments with me and our other readers in the comment area below.