Federal backing needed for precision agriculture

Published 8:06 am Thursday, August 12, 2021

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Until the costs associated with precision agriculture become affordable, farmers are calling for support as they lead the industry’s transition to its future.

Essex County grain grower Scott Mundie said he’s one of many farmers who are using precision agriculture to implement technologically innovative conservation practices. His family hosted a precision agriculture roundtable conversation about their farm heritage and modern conservation efforts July 22. They met with farm equipment specialists, representatives from state soil and water conservation districts, State Conservationist Dr. Edwin Martinez-Martinez and officials from the U.S Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. The event was organized by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Mundie explained the functions of his farm’s data-driven precision equipment, which is used to enhance soil health, reduce chemical applications and protect water resources — and the staggering price tag that comes with it. He said a dedication to enhanced nutrient management techniques is shared among his generation of farmers, but more federal backing is needed as they fully pivot into the new standard of precision agriculture.

Mundie said the costly precision technologies they employed just a few years ago are practically obsolete.

“The expense is tremendous,” he said. “We need help to get over the financial burden, and get into the technology that is newly developed. When you expense it out, it costs more per acre. Period.”

Mundie speculated that the added expense could leave Virginia’s smaller-scale conservation-minded farmers in a bind.

NRCS officials discussed their own funding barriers, and explained how federal allocations can’t meet the needs of every farmer who applies for cost-share funding, equipment or technical assistance programs. However, Mundie was heard loud and clear.

Dwight Forrester, NRCS district conservationist in the Tappahannock office, said the agency has done a great job with outreach because Virginia farmers like the Mundies know and understand why these practices are crucial. He hopes an increase in federal funding will further support farmers willing to integrate enhanced nutrient management into their operations.

“The ultimate goal is implementation,” Forrester said.

Farmers want to implement these practices, added Lucee Kossler, NRCS district conservationist in the Warsaw office. “But what’s the saying — you can’t get blood out of a turnip?”