“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
In 2003, Berry et al. defined precision conservation as “a set of spatial technologies and procedures linked to mapped variables, which is used to implement conservation management practices that take into account spatial and temporal variability across natural and agricultural systems.”
After reading this I thought to myself, wow, precision agriculture seems pretty complicated.
Not that I disagree with Berry’s definition, but I think a more useful definition for precision conservation is “applying conservation practices in the right place, at the right time, and at the right scale” (Cox 2010). But how about faster, let’s use precision conservation to get conservation on the land faster…oh yeah, and let’s not forget that precision conservation should allow us to get cheaper conservation. Oh, and while we are at it, let’s use precision conservation to make it easier to get conservation on the land. How about if we just make precision conservation fly in the face of conventional wisdom. The saying, “You can have it cheap, fast or good. Pick any two.” How about we keep it simple and pick all three?
This is an exciting time for conservation. In my 30 – year career of soil and water conservation, I have never seen more excitement in the private sector to engage in conservation. Sure, in the 1990’s there were a few agri-business companies that engaged in conservation tillage, but that was pretty limited. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to meet with some major agricultural businesses. All of these businesses have what they call a “Water Management Team.” One common theme is that all of these Water Management Teams are struggling to define the sideboards of the issues their team should be pursuing. On one end, they know water management includes drainage and on the other end, they know it also includes irrigation. But they seem to be a little unsure of what is in between those two sideboards. In my mind, the in-between ground is soil and water conservation. It is those practices traditionally done by NRCS. It is soil quality. It is soil conservation. And, it is water conservation.
It is NOT my intent to turn this blog into an academic discussion. It is also not my intent to dumb down conservation. Instead, the goal of this blog is to discover, uncover, and promote new technologies in soil and water conservation on both a macro scale (watershed level) and the micro scale (field level).
I chose to entitle my blog, “Precision Conservation” because I do recognize both Joseph Berry and Craig Cox are right. We do need to be smarter about how we approach conservation. And yes, it will take advanced technology. As a conservation community, we have utterly failed to keep up with the advancements in technology. Instead, we have elected to do more of the same. If we want to solve any of our soil and water problems, we must figure out this thing called Precision Conservation.
In the next few posts, I will be discussing:
- RTK vs. LiDAR–the right data for the right job
- How machine control is a game changer for precision conservation
- Siting retention structures to maximize flood benefits
- Getting the private sector involved in precision conservation in a meaningful way
- A more meaningful way to predict soil erosion
- What’s new in collecting topographic data