PrecisionAg at 20: Still Making the Complex Understandable
So busy were we at PrecisionAg® in staying on top of this fast-changing industry that we nearly lost sight of an important milestone. Twenty years ago the first edition of PrecisionAg Illustrated – forebear to today’s PrecisionAg Professional and its family of related media products – was published.
It’s true: We covered precision agriculture longer than most of the world even called it “precision agriculture.” Some back then liked to call it “site-specific farming.” Others favored the colorful term “farming-by-the-foot” – no word on how this translated into the metric system.
Our very first cover in 1997 dared to do an irreverent take on one of the most iconic works of art, “American Gothic.” (If memory serves me correctly, the estate of artist Grant Wood might have had an exchange with Clear Window Multimedia, founding publishers of the magazine, about that one.) And our content fearlessly took on issues of the day that – from the perspective of 2017 – might seem a bit quaint:
- “The only thing GPS farming will change is everything!”
- “Yield Monitors: What Makes Them Tick?”
- “I Have a Map … So What?”
- And the eternal question posed to “The Computer Guy” – “How do I hear sound over the Internet?”
Elliott Nowels, who eventually sold the PrecisionAg franchise to Meister Media Worldwide and served as our company’s V.P. of Business Development for a number of years, laid out the magazine’s mission in its opening pages: To make the latest in crop production technology accessible and understandable to crop producers and those who serve them.
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We still abide by this mission today.
Easy to Get Lost in the Details
Yet with so much new technology free-floating around these days – artificial intelligence, machine learning, imagery from drones and sensors and satellites, equipment-mounted image-recognition cameras – it’s easy to forget that precision agriculture at its heart is really a turbocharged, georeferenced, data-driven approach to three essential practices:
- Collecting data. Today the overabundance of data – yield monitor data, sensor data, imagery data, weather data, historical data, etc. – can bring to mind the lyrics from a long-ago Rush song: “images conflicting into data overload.” But it’s still just data. Highly enriched and bountiful data – but just data. At least until we do something with it.
- Analyzing data. For this next step we now have a legion of educated, experienced agronomists who pore over multi-layered field maps to draw inferences and interpolations and make recommendations that will improve the quality and quantity of the crop and – we hope – manage inputs better.
- Applying data. Finally, we take all this data, intel, and agronomic know-how to the field through correctives and enhancements including variable-rate application, precision irrigation, timely in-season side-dressings of nitrogen, etc.
Three understandable steps.
Those of us in the tech and communications businesses can fall prey to a belief that our instruction must be as complicated as the technologies we talk about. This is certainly a path to shock and awe. But breaking complex concepts down to what we like to call “bite-size chunks” adds huge amounts of understanding and value.
To make the latest in crop production technology accessible and understandable to crop producers and those who serve them.
This is our mission at PrecisionAg.
Is it yours?