Can Farming be Prescribed?

A recent Reuters article titled Digital farming could spell shake-up for crop chemicals sector considers how new technology affects the amount of inputs growers use and highlights a number of digital farming providers who “all aim to provide farmers with individualized prescriptions on how to work each field down to a fraction of an acre.”

This begs the question: is farming something that can be prescribed and executed at this level of granularity?

Agriculture is wildly complex and every decision affects the next. Hence the evolution of decision support tools. In Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, author Michael Lewis notes that people “operate with beliefs and biases. To the extent you can eliminate both and replace them with data, you gain a clear advantage…” For centuries, growers often relied on the beliefs and biases that had been passed down through generations of their family – some useful, some not. With the vast amount of data now available, growers have access to information that can give them a clear advantage by distinguishing facts from beliefs.

But can it be prescribed?

To say “yes” would imply that any person, from any walk of life, could instantly become a successful grower. But farming is about a series of decisions, all of which can, quite literally, change as quickly as the weather. And while data can provide more sound decision making support, it cannot completely replace experience in the field.

This is how we at GEOSYS see things differently. We’re not working solely on prescriptions – a one-and-done evaluation of the field. GEOSYS builds decision support systems using satellite-based remote sensing that provides current, actionable data along with access to historical records throughout the growing season.

Digital agriculture is more than application rates and yield predictions.

It’s about knowing what products and practices have the best chance of success. And, if they succeed more often, there will be more sales of inputs in the long run. Applying fungicide to a field that has little-to-no risk of disease makes the input seem ineffective. By using remote sensing to identify high risk fields, you are able to ensure a higher likelihood of success.

It’s about optimal use. Crop protection manufacturers need to be able to show growers the value in using their products. If there is value, there will be sales. And it’s an opportunity for the manufacturers to closely evaluate products with low market penetration and use the data available to show value in products that might be overlooked.

It’s about daily monitoring and evaluating the changing conditions. Growers can stay one step ahead by seeing what can’t be detected with the human eye. By the time you actually see an issue in the field, you’re too late. The damage is done.

In the end, agriculture is the world’s greatest balancing act with a complex web of decisions that must be made throughout the year. There is no singular prescription for success. While a traditional prescription may give you a solid start, the value in digital agriculture comes from the data that empowers growers to continuously monitor fields and make decisions that optimize productivity. And, if digital agriculture is used to its fullest capabilities, everyone in the agriculture value chain can enjoy a profitable future.