>>> <firstname.lastname@example.org> 08/29/95 08:06am >>>
...with regards to your request for info on precision farming, let me
preface this with the fact that I have been involved in agriculture since the
early 70's which includes my work on the Kewaunee watershed, owning,
operating and or consulting on farms from as small as 80 acres and as
large as 40,000 acres of miln till operations with 4000 acres of certified
organic production (contiguous) in Minnesota
First, one has to understand that farming is not the same across the US.
Cotton farming in the South is different than cotton farming in Arizona.
Dairy farming (if you can call it that) in California differs from
Minnesota/Wisconsin and even Pennsylvania. Land, weather and other
environmental factors play a large part in dictating the farming methods
thus, my initial comment is that any program has to be specific to the
region and industry. The USDA creators understood this when they
created the SCS and ASCS with the choices on how to uses these
resources and funds controlled at the local levels by farmers- at least that
was the original intent and one still worthy of examining
Next, it is my experience that, in this information intensive age, smart
farming requires more time iln the chair behind the computer and in the
library than on the seat of a tractor. One dairy farmer told me that he has
to take the equivalent of 8 credits per year iln order to stay current.
Thus, small farms which do not have the cashflow require farmers to be
in the fields because they can not afford to hire labor and or the
specialized consultants that larger cashflow farming operations can. In
other words, size, particularly with respect to net farm income which can
be epxended on information via self learning and/or the use of consultants
is critical. This pushes for larger farms as margins get tighter- as in any
industry. But, this is not uniform across the ilndustry or subsector or
region of the country. Care must bve taken against generalizations and
uniform application of efforts
But, in a sense, to contradict the above statement, for plain vanilla
farming- one which does not produce specialty crops such as clear hilum
organic beans or value added production, size is a dominating factor.
In the midwest where the land is flat, large acreage farming is the trend.
Fewer tractors means less cpatial investment and lower operating costs-
one four wheeler against several smaller units, etc. Less iron, less labor
and the strong ability to use GPS and related equipment. Here lands may
vary but not as greatly as in the hills of Pennsylvania where land
contours and farming have made many fields variagated with regards to
soil types etc.
We can operate organic farms with large equipment and use the types of
technology which you mentioned and do it cheaper with equal or greater
yields as conventional organic and even conventional crop production- So
the high tech assessment and fertilizer placement tools really boost
opportunities for farmers with the ability to acquire the knowledge and
the capital to maintain and use this equipment effectively
This basically gratres on the sensibilities of those farmers who like to use
Wendell Berry's poetic "eyes to acres ratio" as a mandate for saving the
family farm. GPS, especially with the use of crop consultants, provides
many more and better eyes than one farmer can hope to provide.
My tree hugging friends don't like to hear this
Thus, the long answer to your question is yes, all technology which
helps to husband the environment and yield commodities for humans is
welcome at all levels realizing that there are trade offs which do not
always manifest themselves in the bio/physical sphere.
The other half of your question on the role of government in this domain
is quite interesting, particularly wilth GPS technology. If I remeber the
history of this development, and many others in agriculture, government
has been a lagging indicator- a little ahead of the
Universities, but not much. After the initial work of the fed in developing
gps technology- thanks to dod- I believe that it was the private sector
which created the first applications in agriculture while most others
looked on or asked for research grants to study what farmers were doing.
But, then this has been true with foliar feeds, Four Wheel drive tractors
and other technology.
I am not sure what the Fed might wish to do in this area. The fed,
particularly the EPA is very good at helping to set guidelines and study
potential benefits and opportunities to meet environmental standards.
GPS and precision farming is only one set of tools in a growing
armamentarium of sustainable ag techniques, many of which do not
require high tech but do require creative ilntellegence on the part of the
It is always easy to fall back on the development and use of technology
because it can be seentouched felt and is easier to justify, particularly to
funding sources. Thinking- well that's what one does every day- hire
more people to think is harder to do than to buy research equipment and
hardware trials- even computer software is suspect- after all how much
could it cost to write a few lines of code. then too, labor is ongoing
overhead with medical insurtance, retirement and pay raises- projects
with equipment can just be dropped without need to deal with the
messiness of reassigning personnel, etc
So, I am interetested in what precipitated this question, what you are
doing in this area and where there may be oportunities to explore this
arena in depth