Data and advanced agronomic modeling have significantly impacted the decision making processes of farmers around the world. But each morning, it is the farmer that must make the final decisions for their fields and the farmer that lives with the consequences of those decisions. No one - not the trusted ag retailer, the weather advisor, nor the mobile data portal - can possibly know the final criteria the farmer will use to make their operational decisions.
While agronomic data, soil and weather data are key criteria, other factors like the farmer’s personal risk profile, financial status, landlord-renter requirements, and even family relations will play a part of every decision. The brashness or naivety (the difference is often not distinct) of claims for prescriptive recommendations by an emerging class of agtech, big data, weather, and analytics firms making their first foray into agriculture is often amusing. The business of agriculture is like no other – the input variables and risk factors for every decision can be staggering. Models that work in university research environments or in Silicon Valley data centers simply cannot generate hardline prescriptive recommendations suitable for every farmer within the ‘market’ called agriculture.
Our job as agricultural data and technology providers is to deliver the right data at the right time to enable each farmer to make their own final decisions that will be best for them. Data technologies and information systems must serve as a virtual partner with the farmer. Better data and better insight through high-resolution weather data, crop modeling and agronomics provide a powerful platform for each individual farmer’s decision process. But at the end of each day, each decision will be the farmer’s.
It is fascinating to observe this reality across all segments of global agriculture – from small holder farmers in developing countries trying to reach sustainable income from their fields, to large grain farmers in North America applying precision ag technologies, to the largest commercial vegetable growers with crops worth many thousands of dollars per acre. Through our personal farming experience, direct conversations with farmers, and partnerships with the software providers serving them, we know how better weather and agronomic information is applied – when it is trusted and acted upon directly and when other variables or risk factors simply take precedence.
The world’s 580 million farmers must feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050. That’s just 34 primary growing seasons to provide each farmer with the data they need for better decisions to substantially increase their productivity. The technology is available today to provide that data service around the world even as new research and science brings forth advanced genetics, better cropping practices, improved crop protection, and remote sensing in parallel. Agronomic information services companies and field management software providers are uniquely poised to partner with research, but those that succeed will understand intimately the complexity of agronomy as a science, agriculture as a business, and the decision-making processes of farmers as individuals.