of chemicals that cause environmental damage, presumably because natural degradation rates change in response to changing application rates. Economic factors may also limit reductions in chemical application rates at the field level and in the aggregate. At the field level, precision agriculture technologies may increase crop response to inputs such as fertilizers or pesticides. For example, technologies that allow producers to change application rates in response to changes in soil moisture, pest infestation levels, or other growing conditions will likely increase marginal fertilizer and pesticide productivity. Similarly, better information about soils may induce farmers to increase their estimates of yield potential. In such cases, use of these inputs is unlikely to be reduced as much as anticipated, and it may even become profitable to increase input application rates. At the regional level, precision agriculture technologies may create incentives for farmers to expand the cultivation of crops that use these inputs relatively more intensively, resulting in higher total emissions of agricultural pollutants even if emissions per unit area fall. Such research should concentrate on broader-scale effects, however, such as impacts at the watershed or ecosystem, rather than field-level effects, and should consider the impacts of economic incentives as well as agronomic considerations.
Some producers may adopt precision agriculture technologies with the expectations that the technologies will generate environmental benefits. However, economic incentives to adopt precision agriculture so as to improve existing environmental quality will exist only in settings where farmers bear at least a share of the costs of agricultural pollution. Although precision agriculture may be a means of effecting reductions in agricultural pollution, it is not a substitute for agricultural pollution control policy.
Because precision agriculture technologies and services are seen as another profit arena for agribusiness (and an entry into agribusiness for other information technology providers), the status quo of capital-and chemical-intensive forms of agriculture will be maintained and in many areas bolstered. Conceptually, precision agriculture could contribute to organic farming and systems commonly referred to as reduced-input agriculture; however, this may not be considered profitable by technology providers. Determination of environmentally sound uses of precision agriculture is an appropriate public sector role.
The committee believes that precision agriculture offers new and emerging technologies to address information needs for management of crop production. Widespread adoption of precision agriculture technologies will constitute a new way to practice agriculture at ever finer spatial and temporal resolutions, offering the potential to be both more economically and environmentally efficient. However, precision agriculture technology is new and largely unproven. Widespread adoption depends on economic gains outstripping the costs of the technology.