Blog: The Wheat Sheaf

Why Does Agriculture Need Complex Solutions?

The 2016 Tactical Farming Conference, held in Calgary on February 10 and 11, encouraged delegates to ask themselves “What are my goal for my farming operation? Where do I need to be? What is my plan to reach these goals?”

Keynote speaker, Colorado State University Professor of Precision Agriculture Raj Kholsa told the group that complex solutions are now needed to get where we need to be. But why is this? One of the reasons is an increasing push, and desire to be more sustainable in everything we do, including farming.

Kholsa strongly believes that precision agriculture can be part of the complex solution. Precision agriculture is the art and science of utilizing advanced technologies (global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems, remote-sensing, spatial statistics, information systems, etc.) to enhance the efficiency, productivity, and profitability of agriculture production systems in an environmentally friendly manner. He used the example of applying nitrogen to a field to illustrate the importance of embracing new technologies and “big data.”

Soils in a field show great variability in terms of nutrients available. Depending on this level of variability, applying enough nitrogen for the field’s average requirements could actually only match 2 per cent of the field’s needs. That means that 98 per cent will either be over or under fertilized, depending on the distribution.  Both scenarios have huge implications in sustainability: financially in terms of business sustainability and in terms of environmental impact. To achieve more efficient application, growers need to be able to capture spatial variability and manage it. Kholsa stressed that precision ag is one of the tools that can help growers do this.

We have already seen many changes in the way we do things in agriculture. However, the rate of innovation is highly variable. For example, in 40 years a GPS receiver has gone from the size of a small house to something that you can hold on the tip of your finger, yet we are still primarily relying on synthetic fertilizer produced from the intensive, century old Haber-Bosch process. Despite challenges in some critical areas, innovators continue to push for new, complex solutions to problems both new and old.

What do you think will be the next great innovation in agriculture?

For more information on the Tactical Farming conference, visit

For more information on Raj Kholsa, visit



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