Thursday, March 31, 2011

Environmental data 'should be made more available to farmers'

Nadya Anscombe in Environmental Research Web: A new and multidisciplinary approach to the use of environmental data in agriculture is urgently needed if the industry is to increase production while reducing its environmental impact, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, US.

In a paper in Environmental Research Letters, David Zaks and Christopher Kucharik warn that valuable data is being wasted because it is not reaching the relevant decision makers in a format that is useful to them. To date, most data collected on farms for management purposes are not used in other ways, and scientific and census data are usually collected independently. National data about agricultural production are often kept confidential.

"Farmers have concentrated on improving productivity of their crops and cannot be expected to maximize productivity and deliver ecosystem services without the right information at their disposal," Zaks told environmentalresearchweb. "Farmers and land managers need to be given incentives to make better use of technology, such as satellite data, ground-based sensors and computer models to manage the land in a sustainable way."

Zaks' research has shown that there are major gaps in the data modelling and decision-making infrastructure in the agricultural industry. "Everyone wins if we were to improve the communication between scientists, policy makers, the public and farmers," he said. "A farmer who knows about the daily variation in soil micronutrients within his field and also has access to data about the weather over days and seasons can make better-informed decisions about how much fertilizer or water to use on his crops. This not only increases yields, but also lessens environmental impact and is a win-win situation. But the majority of farmers currently do not have access to this kind of information."

Zaks believes that governments need to take advantage of what he calls "the Facebook generation" of farmers who are equipped with a large variety of digital tools….

Most farm implements now rely on some form of electronic box to make them function, this box with yellow buttons and display controls a Vaderstad seed drill. Shot by Michael Trolove, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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