You suggest that edapho-climatic factors shape the current
recommendation domains now, and will continue to do so in the future.
What we argue in the paper is that other factors, and in particular,
biological and ecological factors, will assume increasing prominence
in shaping and bounding "recommendation domains" in the future.
I think we agree more than we disagree. By edapho-climatic factors, I
meant to include biological and ecological factors. There is no easy
dividing line between regional factors and purely local factors. At
some point, the responsibility for adaptive research is handed off to
the farmer. The lack of extension resources limits the amount of
hands-on work that agents can do with individual farmers, so the public
R & E system creates general recommendations, but most adaptive,
implementation work is done by the farmer. Isn't this the current
apparent predominance of edapho-climatic factors now is an artefact
caused by the ability of producers to remove the
biological/ecological factors with purchased inputs. In the
future - and really, it is already starting, producers will
be increasingly unable to modify/manipulate/manicure their fields to
remove this variability, because the costs of the inputs to do so is
rising so much faster than the value of the commodities produced on
I don't think the main issue is modifying fields to eliminate
variability, but modifying recommendations to fit the farmers unique
production situation, including local biological and lifestyle factors.
For example, the extension bulletin might say "don't plant corn if the
soil temperature is under 10C." But if the grower has a sufficiently
large acreage, he'll push it earlier, based on previous experience. Or
if the field is poorly drained, wait till later. Growers don't respect
our recommendations that much, they take them with a grain of salt.
I would be so bold as to suggest that the largest increase in
ecologically sustainable farmers in the coming years will come not
from those disenchanted with chemicals (and plastics, eh?) but from
the ranks of those desirous of staying financially solvent.
I believe that most farmers try to be ecologically sustainable today
because they care about the land, and their own future on it. They may
not adhere to your particular list of correct practices, but they care.
Researchers/extensionists can still be involved in the conduct and
analysis of the work by asking such questions as how generalizable
are these findings? Why did wheat yield higher after soybeans on
Farm A but not on neighboring Farm B? Or in 1996 but not in 1997 on
the same farm? Or on a north facing slope but not on a south facing
slope. Was it a higher incidence of phytophthora, greater drought
stress during a critical phase of reproduction, or any one of a
number of system questions. To the extent that causality can be
determined, results can be replicable over fields, years, or farms.
Or, can suggest either breeding improvements or new management
possibilities to consider.
I fully agree. The role of R & E people in this is to:
1. Provide higher level coordination (design, statistics,
2. Produce regional recommendations where possible
3. Educate farmers, managers, and consultants to understand local
biological factors so they can adapt regional recommendations to their
Thus, this is an example of where a larger-scale approach produced
recommendations (for complex mixtures) that differed 180 degrees from
those produced from small-scale studies (simple mixtures). This is
one example of where researchers can find a new niche - asking larger
scale questions than would be relevant on an individual farm.
IMO, this is an example of why it is crucial to conduct research on
farms, under realistic conditions. But pasture manangement is an
extreme example, and some things can be studied very well with small
plots. Still, they should be on farms when possible.
Thus, one of the basic premises of this new "precision agriculture" -
that variability could be monitored and strategically controlled -
appears to be invalid. In a microcosm, this same reality pertains to
much of the resource-intensive paradigm.
I too am skeptical of "precision agriculture." I've seen situations
where it is precisely wrong. But there may be certain uses that are
profitable and environmentally beneficial. One useful thing for farmers
is the ability to measure yield and moisture of crops during harvest.
This helps them do their own on-farm research.
How do you think that the R & E system can be changed to do a better and
more relevant job? Can partnerships with farmers and industry provide
additional tools to do better and more comprehensive on-farm research?
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