, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 71-101

From Agronomic Research to Farm Management Guidelines: A Primer on the Economics of Information and Precision Technology

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Abstract

An ultimate purpose of much agronomic and agricultural economic research is to provide management guidelines (e.g., on application rates of fertilizer, seed, and herbicides) to farmers. Ideally, farm management guidelines or recommendations would be determined by applying sound economic theory to data from agronomic experiments. While information provided by agronomic data about the relationship between crop yields, managed inputs, soil characteristics, and weather variables has always been valuable, we argue in this paper that because such information and precision agriculture technology are economic complements, the advent of precision agriculture technology has made information provided by agronomic experiments now even more valuable than ever. The purpose of this paper is to point out and respond to two practical implications of the complementarity between precision technology and information from agronomic research. The first implication is that because precision technology has made information more valuable, it is also more costly now when agronomists make mistakes in using economic theory to derive incorrect farm management recommendations from the information. Therefore it is more important than ever that agronomists understand some basic economic theory about agricultural production and precision technology. Our response is to provide here an economic primer on precision agriculture and information. We also recommend increased collaboration between agronomists and agricultural economists in precision technology research. The second implication is that, because precision technology has made the information more valuable, there is more need than ever for long-term, multi-regional agronomic experiments. For before scholarly experts can provide separate management recommendations for many very small areas of farmers' fields, they will need to know much more than they currently do about the relationships between crop yields, input application rates, soil characteristics, and weather variables. Our response is to call for agronomists to begin designing and implementing such experiments, and to call for increased public funding of such experiments.