Harnessing digital data to supplement farmer knowledge

Paul Hegedus, PhD Program, 4th year, Ecology and Environmental Science, Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Montana State University

Advisor: Dr. Bruce Maxwell, Professor, Land Resources and Environmental Science, Montana State University

Farming has always been riddled with uncertainty due to the inherent complexity of agroecosystems combined with the history of management in fields. Adaptive management and experimentation are key for farmers to understand the intricacy of ecological interactions that occur over space and time on fields under all management practices, from conventional to organic. As the number of farmers in rural communities decreases and farm sizes increase, it is becoming more infeasible for producers to have an intimate understanding of their land as they are spread thinner by managing more land. However, due to the agricultural data revolution, there is an extraordinary amount of data available from farms that can be used to supplement in-person observations of crop responses to the environment and management across landscapes. Equipment on farms has opened a stream of digital data that is complemented by advances in the availability and quality of satellite based remote sensing information. While this data provides an opportunity to increase understanding of agroecosystem complexity, it has traditionally been underutilized and requires technological skills and time to gather and manage into a useable format that is useful in aiding management decisions. Digital data from precision agriculture technology is not a replacement for human knowledge, but identifying, gathering, and aggregating this data is imperative to providing farmers with information that supplement their local understanding of their own land. When combined with adaptive management, this information provides an avenue to maintain producer’s livelihoods and presence in rural communities.
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