Risk In Agricultural Decisions

The concept of risk, especially in the context of a decision, is difficult to assess for a number of reasons. First, risk is more based on perception than facts. Paul Slovic, a psychologist who has done landmark studies over the past three decades, identified key characteristics that helped define human perception of risk. He found that people did not tolerate risks that were perceived as lacking control, associated with dread, had a catastrophic potential, had fatal consequences, and would result in an inequitable distribution of risks and benefits.

The classic example of a perceived risk that is uncontrollable and potentially catastrophic is a nuclear power plant. While modern plants have numerous safeguards to prevent a meltdown, they are perceived as highly dangerous by many individuals because they lack personal control over them. Ironically, some of the same people who perceive nuclear power plants as high risk do not use seatbelts while driving a car or wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Even though it is well-documented that seatbelts and helmets prevent serious head injuries in an accident, these people believe they are in control of their vehicles and bikes at all times.

Second, risk can be in the form of an extremely rare event. Nassim Taleb, in his book “The Black Swan,” defines a “black swan” as an event that is unexpected, extremely impactful, and difficult to predict. Black swans are so rare that people are unprepared for their occurrence. In some sense, the risk of a black swan is incalculable as it is catastrophic.

An example of a black swan is the Big Thompson Flood which occurred in Colorado in 1976. This flood was considered a one-in-1,000-year event and therefore beyond the living memory of many generations. Its occurrence was unexpected, impactful, and unpredictable by forecasting techniques at that time.

Third, the concept of risk is shaped by our educational and cultural backgrounds. People fear what they do not understand and people reject positions and/or practices that are not politically or socially acceptable. Education exposes individuals to new ways of thinking and to facts beyond those collected through experience. New technologies and novel solutions can challenge a position or practice.

Lastly, risk can be difficult to assess due to too little or too much data or information. In most cases, an individual may understand the underlying logic for processes affecting a decision but lack the data to reasonably predict an outcome. In a few cases, an individual may be overwhelmed by too much data and suspend any logical thinking when making a decision. In these cases, a person will focus on one or two variables to assess the behavior of a complex system.

Remembering The Odds

Risk by definition is associated with loss and everyone tries to avoid it. However, in order to take advantage of new technologies, products, and/or services, we accept certain calculated risks since they are part of our lifestyle and jobs. For example, it is almost certainty that over a lifetime everyone will experience some type of non-fatal automobile accident.

The same is true for food poisoning, a burn, electric shock, or injury. This social acceptance of risk is well-illustrated by the example of electricity. Michio Kaku, a popular physicist and futurist, noted that after the invention of electricity, many people resisted the building of an electrical infrastructure due to the fear of electrocution. And they were right. The risk of electrocution was real and it still exists today. In fact, according to the American Burn Association, there are on average 400 deaths and 4,400 injuries due to electrical hazards. We, as a society, accept this risk because the benefits of an electrical infrastructure far outweigh the likelihood of an individual experiencing death from electrocution.

While one can never rule out a “black swan” occurring in agriculture, most of our concerns about risk have to do with data and information, education, and cultural practices because the decisions we make are under our control. With that attention, there are a few steps we can take to minimize risk in our production decisions.

A Five-Step Approach

First, keep good records. In agriculture, as in other environmental systems, history repeats itself. There are predictable patterns in weather, crops, and pests.

Second, expect the unexpected. While a growing season may appear to be similar to a previous one, there will always be subtle differences. A selected hybrid may be less sensitive to environmental stresses but more susceptible to a new pest.

Third, whenever possible, have more than one solution to a problem. For example, weather conditions may result in a narrow planting window and therefore additional equipment may be required to complete seeding by a desired date. Or a worker may become sick at critical time requiring the temporary hiring of additional personnel.

Fourth, understand the technology supporting a decision. Whether its software or equipment, be sure everything works and has been calibrated to your specific field setting and operation.

Lastly, seek advice and learn from others. We are living in an information age. Help is just a key stroke or call away. While you may be facing a new event, such as a herbicide-resistant weed, you can be sure someone else in another location has experienced the same event in a previous year.

Leave a Reply

Decision Support Software Stories
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launched
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
Farmer with iPad
Decision Support SoftwareAgrian Enhances Field Scouting App
June 18, 2018
Agrian has added a new feature to its robust field scouting app – a pest trap counting solution. The new Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
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
Farmers Edge Truck
AmericasFarmers Edge, Raven Announce Collaboration Agreement
May 9, 2018
Raven Industries and Farmers Edge announced today a marketing and collaboration agreement. The two companies are working together to develop Read More
Trending Articles
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
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
dropcopter
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
JDandPessl
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
Matt-Waits-featured
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
Uncategorized2018 CTIC Conservation In Action Tour: Bringing Back th…
July 20, 2018
We here at PrecisionAg.com and PrecisionAg Professional recently had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Conservation Technology Information Center’s(West Lafeyette, Read More
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
Agrible
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
group-photo
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
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
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
Retailer-Grower-tablet
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
raven-slingshot-job-generator-job-sync-1
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
Onsite-logo
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
Tomato-crop-India
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
BrightFarms
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
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
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
TerrAvion
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
Farmer-Tablet
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