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
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 Key Observations
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
Business Management3 Questions to Ask When Looking for Your First Job in Precision Agriculture
June 18, 2018
Let me begin this column by extending my congratulations to all of my fellow students who have just graduated – Read More
Business ManagementOpinion: Stumpin’ for Rural Broadband
April 30, 2018
In 1936, deep in the throes of the Great Depression, the federal government moved forward with an initiative that would Read More
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
Trending Articles
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Precision Agriculture” — What’s Your Vote?
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollination by Drone
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
Latest News
Tools & Smart EquipmentCanadian Planter Manufacturer Purchases Harvest Interna…
July 19, 2018
Seeding and planting technology innovator Clean Seed has signed an agreement to strategically acquire U.S. planting equipment manufacturer Harvest International, Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines…
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Overland Park Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsNutrien Drops $63 Million to Acquire Agrible
July 16, 2018
Nutrien announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Agrible for total consideration of $63 million, Read More
Industry NewsFarmobile Acquires Prime Meridian, Taps Cubbage as New …
July 13, 2018
Farmobile today announced an agreement to acquire the assets of Prime Meridian, a precision agriculture data management company based in Read More
DronesPrecision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina St…
July 13, 2018
Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, Read More
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Settles with Raven in Patent Infringement Su…
July 12, 2018
AgJunction Inc., a leader in advanced guidance and autosteering, has settled a patent infringement lawsuit it filed against Raven Industries, Read More
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 …
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
Industry NewsNew Raven Slingshot Advancements Will Help Save Time, R…
July 11, 2018
Raven Industries, Inc. has announced several new services available on the Slingshot and Viper 4 platforms: Job Generator and Job Read More
Industry NewsAgIntegrated Acquires Exclusive Licence to Satshot’s Im…
July 11, 2018
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), a leader in precision ag data integration and software development, and Satshot, a leader and pioneer in Read More
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralian Agritech Plants Blockchain for Efficiency
July 11, 2018
“Agritech” at one time would have meant new equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, but today it refers to Read More
AsiaIndia: Using Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Fa…
July 11, 2018
After graduating from IIT-Madras, the first thing that Vivek Rajkumar did was to buy four acres near Thiruvananthapuram and start Read More
Industry NewsForbes List of Innovative Ag-Tech Companies Includes Gr…
July 9, 2018
Forbes magazine recently posted a list of the 25 most innovative ag-tech startups in 2018, which includes a few companies Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launch…
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Pr…
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Industry NewsTerrAvion Integrates Aerial Imagery with John Deere Ope…
July 6, 2018
TerrAvion, Inc., a large volume provider of aerial imagery to agriculture, has announced an integration to allow TerrAvion’s aerial imagery Read More
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies…
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Precision IrrigationNotes from the Field: A Look at Irrigation Management P…
July 2, 2018
One of the things I love most about my work is making periodic treks into the field – more often Read More