between soil characteristics that affect fertility recommendations—such as relative field elevation, nitrogen content, carbon content, and soil moisture—despite the recognition of substantial subfield variation in expected yield (Huggins and Alderfer, 1995; Larson et al., 1997; Pan et al., 1997; Vetsch et al., 1995).
Thus far, the public sector has primarily contributed to precision agriculture indirectly through large infrastructure investments outside of agriculture. The largest and most critical investment has been in GPS development and implementation, which was motivated by U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) needs for accurate and instantaneous navigational positioning across the world. The $12 billion invested since 1990 largely overlooked potential civilian spin-off applications, including those in agriculture (National Research Council, 1995c). Other public investments in remote sensing systems, particularly the National Aeronautics and Space Administration LANDSAT sensors, were at least partly motivated by potential applications in agriculture. Public investments in defense computer networks such as ARPANET, leading up to development of the Internet, benefited the entire computing and communications community, including agriculture. Other federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Geological Survey also provided technical expertise to USDA relevant to precision agriculture. Private industry has made large investments in these technologies, as well, often leveraged on these public investments.
In 1995 the USDA Agricultural Research Service had $4.4 million directly invested in precision agriculture research projects at 15 locations (Agricultural Research Service, 1995). A general survey of ARS researchers done in mid-1996 showed 125 full-time-equivalent staff and $26 million in research activities generally related to precision agriculture, about half of which was directly related to precision agriculture topics and half to supportive research. Another 45 full-time-equivalent staff and $9 million were reported as Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) funding for precision agriculture research to the land grant universities. However, many of the activities reported are only partially associated with precision agriculture and cannot be accurately separated from other research areas, such as integrated pest management, sustainable agriculture, conventional yield research plots and experiments, water quality research, and soil nutrient and productivity research.
As adoption of precision agriculture increases, explicit public policies could be formulated to foster or retard adoption. These should be focused on public benefits from adoption that do not compete with private industry objectives and cannot be realized exclusively by any one individual or company. An important reason for public involvement is to avoid any unintended consequences and dangers that might be caused by the increasingly widespread conversion to precision agriculture technologies. The committee identified ways that public involvement could be justified to further appropriate development and dissemination of precision agriculture already undertaken in the private sector: