Sustainability And Precision Ag: On Parallel Paths

One could argue that precision agriculture and sustainability have followed similarly winding evolutional paths over their respective histories. While the term “precision agriculture” has remained unchanged and largely unchallenged since its use became popular in the late 1990s, how it is defined has evolved significantly.

Precision agriculture’s original focus was on variable rate fertility practices, but an economic downturn caused a rash of abandonment by farmers in the early 2000s. The proliferation of automatic steering and high accuracy GPS quickly reenergized the market, but it was mainly about efficiency and logistics rather than improved agronomy. Today, with wireless data transfer and increasing computing power, combined with growing compatibility among brands of equipment, precision ag is moving closer to delivering more holistic benefits to agriculture.

“We were saying it 20 years ago and it is as right today as it ever was,” says Ron Milby, long time precision ag enthusiast, practitioner and integrator who is currently leading GROWMARK’s precision agriculture program. “To me, precision ag is an information-based, knowledge-driven system that utilizes site-specific technology to generate agronomic, economic and environmental benefits for the grower,” says Milby.

At the same time, the entire food production and distribution system is coming closer to a consensus about the key aspects of sustainability. Led by the Field To Market initiative (www.fieldtomarket.org), an impressive lineup of food retailers and manufacturers downstream, input manufacturers have thrown their support behind the initiative as a roadmap to sustainability. For more on the this and other sustainability initiatives, visit www.sustainabilityblueprint.org.

The maturing of precision ag and sustainability at the same time is fortuitous for agriculture. Sustainability models being forwarded by the food production industry are centered identifying the best production areas for key crops, verification of best practices through record keeping, and continuous improvement. All of these require accurate and complete data. The capabilities of improving precision agriculture equipment and software — pinpoint GPS accuracy, wireless data transfer and increasing equipment compatibility — will allow the crop production channel to meet the demands of rigorous sustainability regimens.

We asked two major agriculture associations, CropLife America and the American Soybean Association, to share their perspectives on how precision agriculture technology and sustainability have become intertwined, and how each provides value to their member organizations and agriculture at large.

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