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Information Age is Transforming Agriculture

PULLMAN, Wash. — During the recently ended Industrial Age, mass production ruled on the farm as in the factory. “One size fits all” was the management philosophy and the goal was to maximize production. More acres planted and harvested, more yield per acre was the rule.

But the Information Age is transforming agriculture. Part of this transformation involves customizing operations to a precise degree.

Enter precision agriculture, the topic of the 3rd Western Precision Agriculture Conference to be held Feb. 15-16 in Pasco, Wash.

There, Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, a Purdue University agricultural economist, will explain how the Information Age is reducing the cost of knowledge, enabling farmers to gather more knowledge, analyze it with computers and apply it to their operations.

“Precision agriculture is an effort to apply this knowledge and information technology to agriculture,” Lowenberg-DeBoer said in remarks prepared for the conference.

Gary Ransom, financial analyst for AgriNorthwest, Kennewick, will explain his company’s precision agriculture program on potatoes. The company now is in its fifth year of experience with precision farming.

Curt Pengelly, Simplot Soilbuilders, Caldwell, Idaho, will discuss changing relations between dealers and farmers. “Even though the growth of precision agriculture has not met the expectations of some, it is important to remember that the growth we are seeing is happening despite the fact that the grower is being faced with difficult economic times,” Pengelly said in remarks prepared for the meeting.

“This technology is evolving at a rapid rate,” he said. “New products and techniques for the implementation of these products are being developed daily. While there have been some bumps in the road…the overall response to precision agriculture has been very positive.”

Pengelly will try to convince producers that they must measure successes from precision farming.

Greg Van Doren, Soil Search Lab, Kennewick, will promote precision agriculture as a means not only of producing profits, but of influencing regulatory agencies.

“A break-even program is effective if it provides solutions to environmental concerns and prevents government intervention or citizen lawsuits,” Van Doren said in remarks prepared for the conference. “Generally, when data is analyzed properly, the appropriate recommendations are made, the returns to the producer can easily exceed two to one and returns of 10 to one are not uncommon.”

Francis Pierce, a Michigan State University scientist, says agriculture is the last segment of business in the United States to enter the Information Age and the information economy. In remarks prepared for the conference, Pierce said: “The focus of the Information Age was about the building of data bases, while the focus of the information economy is to extract value from the information.”

Pierce says, “The value in new technology is found not so much in the ability to do what you already could do better, but rather in doing things that could not be done with the old technology.”

The conference is sponsored by Washington State University’s Center for Precision Agricultural Systems.

Information is available from WSU’s Conferences and Institutes Office, 1 (800) 942-4978 or (509) 335-3530.

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