A number of years ago I wrote a report for the Economic Development Administration on Knowledge Management as an Economic Development Strategy. In the report I made the point that rural areas and agriculture are part of the information/intangibles economy by noting the following example of using local knowledge as an economic advantage:
For example, AgriImaGIS is an agricultural imaging business run by a former farmer. His knowledge of how to translate the information from satellite images into information for farmers on vegetation density, crop quality and the specific needs for fertilizer and pesticides was gained through 20 years of farming. (Cited from a story in the San Jose Mercury News
Earlier this week the New York Times ran a piece on “The Internet of Things and the Future of Farming”. The story describes a recent conference presentation by Lance Donny of OnFarm Systems:
In his presentation, Mr. Donny placed the progression of farming in three stages. The first, preindustrial agriculture, dating from before Christ to about 1920, consisted of labor-intensive, essentially subsistence farming on small farms, which took two acres to feed one person. In the second stage, industrial agriculture, from 1920 to about 2010, tractors and combine harvesters, chemical fertilizers and seed science opened the way to large commercial farms. One result has been big gains in productivity, with one acre feeding five people.
The third stage, which Mr. Donny calls Ag 3.0, is just getting underway and involves exploiting data from many sources — sensors on farm equipment and plants, satellite images and weather tracking. In the near future, the use of water and fertilizer will be measured and monitored in detail, sometimes on a plant-by-plant basis.
Mr. Donny, who was raised on a family farm in Fresno, Calif., that grew table grapes and raisin grapes, said the data-rich approach to decision making represented a sharp break with tradition. “It’s a totally different world than walking out on the farmland, kicking the dirt and making a decision based on intuition,” he said.
The benefits should be higher productivity and more efficient use of land, water and fertilizer. But it will also, Mr. Donny said, help satisfy the rising demand for transparency in farming. Consumers, he noted, increasingly want to know where their food came from, how much water and chemicals were used, and when and how it was harvested. “Data is the only way that can be done,” Mr. Donny said.
With cloud computing, intelligent software and cheap sensors, the Internet of Things will only increase the data available. Combined with autonomous vehicles and robotics, agriculture will become even more information intensive. (See also my earlier posting.)
PS – the company I cited in the report is still doing agricultural imaging:
Agri ImaGIS, working with a German satellite imagery company, uses a software mapping system to make satellite images more useful to farmers. The ag producers use the information to improve their farming operation, particularly in fine-tuning the amount of seed and chemical they apply.