"When you get to end of the pier of everything we know in science,” said David Eagleman, Ph.D., at the 2010 TED Conference in Houston, "we see that beyond it is all uncharted waters, all the stuff that we don't know … what you really learn from life in science is the vastness of our ignorance.”

Eagleman, a neuroscientist, was speaking of deep mysteries of the cosmos, like “dark matter” and “dark energy,” as well as things about how our brains process information. He was encouraging his audience to be ok with the words, “I don’t know” and recognize those words as the start of knowing more.

Crop production is in this same category of “the vastness of our ignorance,” it would seem.  Yes, we have made great leaps in productivity with genetics, computers, sensors, machinery and science. We are more efficient in our use of resources of all sorts. We are alive at a time when we can actually see the clear possibility of doubling yield for some crops. Yet in knowing more, we can see more clearly the gaps in our knowledge. We can see that there is still much still to be learned. 

“You know, we really don’t know all that much about how corn actually grows.” 

I remember being surprised by this comment when I heard it years ago from a prominent, bright and successful ag retailer. I’ve thought about it many times since, especially as I’ve tramped through cornfields and seen the straight stalks and big green leaves waggling in the wind.

In one sense, we do know about producing corn, of course. Lots of nutrients, soil health, sunshine and all that. But I think he was talking about it in another sense: How this big, tall plant comes out of that tiny kernel we put in the ground. How an ear of corn can have as many as 700 kernels on it, yielding a 700x return on the investment of that one seed.

That’s the mystery of life. And we would do well to maintain a sizeable sense of humility when we consider the truth of it.

As an ag professional entering the growing season, you stand at the “end of the pier” of your knowledge of precision agriculture. Your experience up to now has planted the poles and nailed down the planks you are standing on as you peer out into the ocean of what you don’t know. The robust data generated by precision ag practices will help build your pier, but most of that comes on the future scorecard offered by the yield monitor.

As the season unfolds, your personal data-gathering can be an important facet of building your pier further and faster. Being a “noticer” and encouraging your precision ag service team to do the same, can bring value to your customers and make this a season of ‘knowing more.’