Contact Us | Current Operating Status
Office of News and Public Information
Back | Home
News from the National Academies
Date: Sept. 8, 1997
Contacts: Molly Galvin, Media Relations Associate
David Schneier, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; Internet <>


Publication Announcement

Public-Sector Support Needed
To Advance Precision Agriculture

On the farm of the future, agricultural managers may be able to oversee their crops by tapping into data from global positioning systems, sensors, and computer models. This sophisticated style of management, known as precision agriculture, could make farming more cost-effective and environmentally sound, according to industry experts. For example, using detailed maps that show the "real-time" distribution of soil nutrients or threatening pests, a farmer could pinpoint the amount of water, pesticide, or fertilizer needed -- even for small areas within a field.

These technologies have the potential to revolutionize agriculture, but most are in the early stages of development and will need extensive research before they are proven effective, says a new report from a committee of the National Research Council. The focus of agricultural research will need to shift from conducting controlled laboratory experiments to gathering data and studying results on the farm. The federal government and land-grant universities -- which have played an uncertain and evolving role in developing these systems -- should build upon private sector efforts by providing funding and resources for this research, the committee concluded.

It identified several priorities that should be addressed, including the following:

> Create data-gathering and analysis tools for agricultural purposes. Many existing technologies, such as global positioning and database systems, were designed for other uses and will need to be adapted for farm settings. In addition, new types of sensors need to be developed. There is little incentive for the private sector to invest in much of the necessary, fundamental research. The federal government should sponsor basic research projects that will provide widespread benefits for agriculture.

> Clarify intellectual property and data privacy rights. The value of information will greatly increase as more sophisticated technologies are introduced. Farmers may want to make data about their fields available to outside vendors such as aerial and satellite sensing companies, fertilizer and seed dealers, and farm cooperatives. Universities and public agencies should ensure that farmers are aware of intellectual property policies and existing laws.

> Link rural farm communities to high-speed data networks. Public-private partnerships are being formed to meet a national goal of providing computers to all American schools by the year 2000. Agricultural organizations should work with public agencies and industry to ensure that farmsteads have access to computer networks.

> Provide unbiased assessments of the economic and environmental impact of precision agriculture methods. Many innovative growers are experimenting with technologies on their farms, but few have the resources to scientifically evaluate results or possible environmental effects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should work with other agencies and industry to ensure that objective evaluations are performed under many different scenarios. In addition, potential environmental effects of new systems should be measured.

> Educate and train agricultural professionals and students. Universities, technical colleges, and professional associations should emphasize a multidisciplinary approach to gathering and analyzing new types of data.

The study was funded by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy. Pre-publication copies of Precision Agriculture in the 21st-Century:Geospatial and Information Technologies in Crop Management are available from the National Academy Press for $35.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.00 for the first copy and $.50 for each additional copy; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain copies from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above.)

      National Research Council
      Board on Agriculture

      Committee on Assessing Crop Yield:
      Site-Specific Farming, Information Systems, and Research Opportunities

      Steven T. Sonka (chair)
      Soybean Industrial Chair for Agricultural Strategy and Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory
      University of Illinois

      Marvin E. Bauer
      Professor of Remote Sensing
      University of Minnesota
      St. Paul

      Edward T. Cherry
      Director, Government Relations and Agribusiness Affairs
      FMC Corp.
      Washington, D.C.

      John W. Colburn Jr.
      Co-founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer
      Crop Technology Inc.

      Ralph E. Heimlich
      Geographic Information Systems Team Leader
      Natural Resources and Environment Division of the Economic Research Service
      U.S. Department of Agriculture
      Washington, D.C.

      Deborah A. Joseph
      Associate Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics
      University of Wisconsin

      John B. LeBoeuf
      Agronomist, Senior Safety Officer and Pest Control Adviser
      Fordel Inc.
      Mendota, Calif.

      Erik Lichtenberg
      Associate Professor
      Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
      University of Maryland
      College Park

      David A. Mortensen
      Associate Professor of Agronomy
      University of Nebraska

      Stephen W. Searcy
      Professor of Agricultural Engineering
      Texas A&M University
      College Station

      Susan L. Ustin
      Assistant Professor of Resource Science
      University of California

      Stephen J. Ventura
      Associate Professor
      Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Soil Sciences
      University of Wisconsin


      Mary Jane Letaw
      Program Officer