The federal government needs to do a better job of making data usable for farmers who want to adopt precision agriculture techniques, Idaho farmer Robert Blair told attendees at an event sponsored by the AGree Initiative at the Meridian Institute last week in Washington. Blair, the owner of Three Canyon Farms and a pioneer in the precision agriculture movement – he was described as the first U.S. farmer to use drones – said that government data exist on many subjects important to farmers, such as weather and locations of rare species, but it is “not being made accessible or user-friendly with a farmer audience in mind.” Nor does it “cross over well” from agency to agency within USDA, he said. Blair added that only about 5-10 percent of farmers are actually using detailed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or remote sensing data to make management decisions. Farmers are not adopting it widely for a number of reasons, he said. “They don’t want to take the time to look at all the data themselves,” he said. “They’re used to just getting in the cab and turning the key.” Because of the low adoption rate for the new technology, Blair said many ag retailers do not have an incentive to invest in learning about the new products. A USDA official attending the meeting – Carrie Castille, Rural Development director for Louisiana – told the audience, “I’m listening” and said, “We want to be there to be able to assist you.” Other presenters at the event were Pamela Hess, executive director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture in Virginia; Dorn Cox, farmer and research director of Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & Environment in New Hampshire and Maine; and Joshua Woodard, president of Ag-Analytics.org and a professor at Cornell University.
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