farm data collection is a barrier to agency use. The process of turning the resultant mountains of raw data into useable and useful information, without sacrificing its inherent geographic specificity and detail, is a formidable challenge unlike the one currently facing agricultural data agencies. The limiting constraint today is additional resources for more samples, whereas the limiting constraint in a precision agriculture data world may be the computer methods and power needed to store, process, and summarize the available data. The vaults of LANDSAT data tapes residing at the USGS Earth Resources Observation System data center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, provide an instructive analogy. The raw download of data from almost 20 years of satellite operations, even though accessible, is so daunting a processing and interpretation task that only a small fraction of these data have been converted into relevant information. Summarizing the flood of data that could derive from two million precision farm databases would be that much more daunting.
The committee believes that precision agriculture offers new information technologies to address information needs for management of agricultural crops. Widespread adoption of precision agriculture technologies will constitute a new way to practice agriculture at ever finer spatial and temporal resolutions, and to improve use of information for crop management at all spatial scales. These new capabilities offer the potential for a more economically and environmentally efficient agricultural sector. However, precision agriculture technology is new and largely unproven. Widespread adoption depends on economic gains outstripping the costs of the technology. Exploiting the full potential of precision agriculture for environmental management will require fundamental shifts in public and private incentives for environmental management, and may require cost-sharing or other incentives for adoption. Lessons from the adoption of other agricultural and information technologies urge caution in anticipating the growth of precision agriculture use. Widespread adoption of precision agriculture methods will create changes in farm operations and in social institutions that can be anticipated and, where they are negative, mitigated. Many of the important findings in this report deal with the range of public policy responses to precision agriculture's evolution and adoption.