Sunshine State News: Consider How Farmers' 'Precision Agriculture' Has Helped the Environment

Article Posted on July 19, 2018

By: Katie Edwards-Walpole, Sunshine State News

When I was starting college in 1999, I began as an ag mechanization and business major. Excuse my perception of age, but back in those days, the big thing was “precision agriculture” and the big wow was people using this new deal called GPS to help guide machines on where and how much fertilizer or input to apply to a field so you didn’t over- or underdo it.

It was so cool. Computers in tractors. We didn’t have apps or satellite radio, and this was going to change farming.

It really did.

I don’t think people look at things from a business perspective and realize how expensive it is for a farmer or rancher to apply fertilizer. It’s really important to keep production and overhead costs lean, especially when market prices are low, and this is no different. So the notion that a farmer just gets out in a field and applies away and wastes money is foolish. It is called precision agriculture for a reason.

Now, take the homeowner who goes to Home Depot and uses the do-it-yourself method for keeping his lawn green and lush. People don’t read labels or think about how much, where and when they really need to put fertilizer on their lawns. Heck, my pet peeve is seeing sprinklers running while it’s raining. Total disregard for resources (especially during dry seasons). But it shows how little people care and how much they love their lawns. That’s why you see some local governments in urban areas passing rainy-season ordinances to help curtail lawn runoff into canals and other bodies of water.

So, my little diatribe fast-forwards 20 years, and again we are talking about precision ag. Yet, few people seem to really appreciate what it has done to help the environment and in turn help farmers keep their overhead costs low. The state has these basin management action plans for areas of critical concern that place additional oversight (and added costs on ag) to reduce nutrient use and correlated impacts to waterways and basins. It’s mandatory, and compliance is a big deal.

I wish more people had the benefit of growing up part city/part rural like I did. I was a kid in the 1980s when dairy farmers -- our friends and neighbors -- were blamed for Lake O’s problems. Some moved north. Some shut down or shifted to other types of ag. Now here we are again, talking about the lake and water quality and point sources of pollution, and the easiest thing to do is blame ag -- entirely…

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