Precision Farming – One View!

In the past decade we in agriculture have become obsessed with precision. When you pause to think about it here we are putting our best minds and significant resources into trying to be perfect in every aspect of our operational lives while we work hand in hand with an entity that is perfectly imprecise. IS THE TERM “PRECISION FARMING” AN OXYMORON?

Nature has a precision rhythm all her own. Natures definition of precision is survival of the species. That means that nothing is precise at least measured by human understanding and in human terms.

What has precision farming done for farmers? Higher earnings perhaps – but does that mean higher profit? Higher stress level for sure. Stress levels on the farm mirror stress levels in the medical profession. More efficient I suppose you could say. Many more acres farmed per man. Is that a good thing? What has precision farming done for rural communities? Made them smaller. Some have become so small they died and some are dying but have not started to smell yet. It has created jobs but what is the point of a job created if it didn’t need to exist in the first place. Something like government paper pushers. Get rid of 1/2 the redundant regs and you dont need the paper pusher.

What if we stepped back and mirrored natures definition of precision? I have followed natures lead few times now with some enhancements that nature doesn’t have access to and I am convinced that we need to adjust our definition of precision if we are going to ensure the survival of the average every day farmer, improve soil health, air and water quality all at the same time. Maybe we dont need to farm so many acres per man to make a living and maybe we dont need to pay for all this precise technology.

What is the connection between economic survival and the environment you might ask? For one thing our human equipment that is required to deliver our definition of precision is expensive. You need a lot of acres to justify the expense. It is not just the capital cost but the cost of upgrading, service, downtime and at times sketchy training and support – often not deliberate but a result of the marriage of two or more products that do not play nice together. The question becomes – who is responsible and the ensuing dialogue often reminds me of the 3 Stooges “Who’s on First.” When the clock is ticking and the calendar marching you have to know the stress level is ratcheting up there like a surgeon who has just nicked an artery.

The environment suffers because of precision. How? To keep operations simple we start to eliminate equipment and along with that plant species. There is a big shift to planters for corn and soybeans eliminating drills which takes the profit out of small grain cereals. We take out the species that best protects soil from the elements and grow row crops. Crops grown in rows are very hard on the soil. Planters need more tillage to function efficiently. The soil is exposed to wind, rain and sunlight for longer periods of time. We try all sorts of methods to protect the soil when the simple solution is simply stop growing crops in rows! We only grow crops in rows because we designed our equipment around the width of horses and oxen. Apart from the Amish when is the last time you have seen a farmer using a horse as his means of power?

Maybe I am wrong… Thing is I don’t believe I am and if you want to try and prove me wrong please take your best shot. At the very least think about it and put precision to the test.

Those little yellow specs in the picture. That is corn. Last year we matched the yield of a conventional planter with 9,000 fewer plants per acre.

Best regards and better living.



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