Whether you trust it or not, precision agriculture is here to stay

Many farmers continue not to use precision agriculture tools because of trust concerns and complexity challenges

Precision agriculture is designed to help growers obtain planting and harvest data, satellite imagery, drone images and soil data and bring that all together in a way that’s easy to use, says Andria Karstens with Climate Fieldview at the 2019 Precision Agriculture Conference and Ag Technology Showcase held recently in London.

It’s great information in theory, but many precision agriculture platforms are still not being completely used.

Why it matters: There will continue to be increasing pressure on farmers to maximize the land base they have available and one way to address that challenge is making more precise use of data and inputs.

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“Once we have that data in one spot we can start to use that to help us make better operating decisions, once we are making better decisions, we can use that information to provide us with resources to use to our maximum efficiency,” says Karstens.

Climate FieldView believes that the next big break in agriculture is using data and analytics to optimize decision making.

In the 20th Century spraying Roundup on a growing crop was a process growers used with caution and doubt. Much like Roundup, precision agriculture is a fairly new and foreign process. Now, Roundup is a staple in the producer’s tool box, much like digital ag is becoming, says Karstens.

Although such a big part of the agriculture industry, more than half of the Canadian farms still are not using digital agriculture record keeping, says Darcy Herauf, director of the FCC AgExpert team.

Through research and surveys the FCC team found that there were three main reasons why the growers weren’t using these resources:

  • The current technology is too complex. Customers don’t find it easy to share, and too difficult at times to access.
  • They don’t understand the return on investment, in terms of money and time, with these programs and platforms.
  • Trust is a large concern. The growers are not sure who they can trust. As the new technologies are available, the farmer’s data is in a cloud, and the question is who should most be trusted with it.

In 2018, FCC put together a research team to understand the status of agriculture data in Canada. The team asked the FCC Vision Panel its questions and received 2,000 responses and 5,700 comments.

They found the agriculture industry is no further ahead with trust in 2018 than in 2016, when the last survey was completed. One quarter were less comfortable with sharing their data of their farm with organizations in 2018 than in 2016, says Herauf.

Seven out of 10 farmers say the conditions governing the use and treatment of their data are very important, especially when considering which technology or service provider to use.

Only one quarter of farmers understand who owns their data and not many companies are clearly or formally asking for approval. Only 31 per cent of farmers said it was clear with the grower that they were given consent.

“We need to do a better job as an industry to make sure our farm customers understand and we get their approval before we share and use their data,” says Herauf.

It’s imperative that all agriculture data companies are more transparent with their customers. Farmers are willing to have their data used, but are more concerned about being taken advantage of.

To ensure the precision platforms are more transparent they need to use plain language that everyone can understand, says Herauf.

FCC wants to work with ag data companies and help to give them the transparency seal, to ensure that farmer’s data will remain the same from application to application.

“Collaboration of sharing data is key to all of this. If we can’t get farmers involved in the data value chain it’s going to get pretty hard to move agriculture forward,” says Herauf.

As a farmer, when looking for an ag tech provider it’s important to ask three questions.

  1. Who owns my data?
  2. Can I take my data with me?
  3. Who is my data shared with and why?

If farmers can ask those three questions, companies should have the answers, says Herauf.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.

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