Agronōmics: eliciting food security from big data, big ideas and small farms

Paper by Roger Sylvester-Bradley presented at International Conference Precision Agriculture 2019:

Most farmers globally could make their farms more productive; few are limited by
ambient availabilities of light energy and water. Similarly the sustainability of farming practices
offers large scope for innovation and improvement. However, conventional ‘top-down’ Agricultural
Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKISs) are commonly failing to maintain significant progress
in either productivity or sustainability because multifarious and complex agronomic interactions
thwart accurate predictions of site-specific best practices. A revolution in knowledge generation
and exchange is therefore needed to realize the potentials of individual farms and fields. This
farmer-centric revolution will best arise from coordinated and widely shared farmer-centric
monitoring, benchmarking and experimentation. These all require more coordination, care and
quality control than can generally be provided by farmers so they must be driven by investments
in farm facilitators and their training, as well as development of easy-to-use, supportive digital
platforms.
Initiatives for farmer-centric knowledge generation and exchange have occurred across the world
but past models have not generally been targeted at eliciting site-specific progress, and they have
been weak in fostering comprehensive feedback between farmer and researcher. Models
enabling engagement by the largest number of farms and the most thorough feedback are
expected to engender fastest agronomic progress. Whilst digital tools such as are currently used
in ‘precision farming’ are seen as essential to this fast feedback, it is suggested that most
emphasis should be placed on creating the social infrastructures that will maintain communication
channels throughout the new ‘bottom-up’ AKIS.