Data management biggest challenge in precision farming
Paul Mask, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System assistant director for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources and an Auburn University professor of agronomy and soils, says the promise of precision farming is using technology to gain a clear and comprehensive picture of one’s farming operations to secure the highest measure of farm efficiency and profitability by reducing input usage, insulating against risk and enhancing sustainable farming practices.
“That’s always been the challenge,” Mask says. “To me, it’s never been about adopting individual pieces of technology — rather, it’s about how the adoption of this technology leads to a change in mindset.”
John Fulton, an Alabama Extension precision farming specialist and Auburn University associate professor of biosystems engineering who filled Mask’s shoes a decade ago after he assumed his current administrative position, sees the next challenge as helping producers become firmly anchored to this guiding principle.
“In the last decade we’ve made strides showing farmers how to use precision farming technologies to avoid over-application and increase efficiency,” Fulton says.
The next big challenge is helping producers acquire a comprehensive understanding of this technology and its wider uses.
Making more informed decisions
“Basically, it boils down to this: How do we take all this agronomic data and process it and, by gaining knowledge from it, make more informed farming decisions?” Fulton asks.
“Right now, data management is the challenge — about the biggest one we face.”
While acquiring the big picture has always been the implicit goal of precision technology adoption, Fulton says that there has been a tendency for producers to lose sight of this fact.
“For our part, I think we have done a good job helping our producers adopt the right technologies for their operations,” Fulton says. “Likewise, I think we’ve done a really good job helping them understand how they grow with this technology over time to maximize benefits.”
Now comes the challenge of showing producers how to integrate all of this technology seamlessly into a larger picture, he says.
“Hopefully, what we learn from all of this is that everything is interrelated and that a single farming decision doesn’t take place in a vacuum but affects the whole operation.”
This systems approach to farming made possible by precision farming adoption is a skill that farmers no longer can discount, especially considering that a number of economic factors are forcing producers to expand or increase production to stay profitable.