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Research Project: Sustainable Intensification of Cropping Systems on Spatially Variable Landscapes and Soils

Location: Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research

Title: What came first, the decision or the sensor?

item Kitchen, Newell

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/15/2019
Publication Date: 5/28/2019
Citation: Kitchen, N.R. 2019. What came first, the decision or the sensor?. In: Proceedings of the 5th Global Workshop on Proximal Soil Sensing, May 28-31, 2019, Columbia, Missouri. p.7.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: My early training in agriculture began when I was just four years old. I played in a large backyard sandbox where I mimicked the actions of my father on our family farm. I created reservoirs, built irrigation canals and ditches, and cultivated fields—all in nearly pure sand. As a youngster, I made dozens of pretend agricultural decisions with my sandbox farm, aided primarily by my human sensors of vision, touch, and smell (we had an outdoor cat). Never did my crops fail. I was prosperous. It was a good life. Reflections on those early days, in light of what brings us together for this workshop, leads to the philosophical questioning of what came first, the decision or the sensor? Perhaps both could be argued as coming first, yet such a question deserves our musing to stay rationally grounded in purposeful careers in science and technology. When the organizers of this workshop considered themes for this year’s gathering, we came back to a recurring thought that attendees have had time and time again since the initial workshop in 2008. What is a soil sensor without a decision? An impulse for many of us throughout the years has been when a new or improved sensor is developed, we immediately acquire the sensor and start taking readings, assuming somehow it will be informative and useful. We are driven by the idea of extending data collection beyond what human sensing allows, by applying these sensing and data acquisition devices to explore, quantify, analyze, and share findings about the diversities of soil. Though true of many sciences, I contend our fascination and intrigue for soil, and its multifaceted functions, have truly been enlarged because of sensors, regardless if that sensing exercise has been in the laboratory or in the field. Soil sensing pushes us to ask questions we otherwise may never ask. More often than not (and as they should), these questions eventually are linked to some type of management decision. One might argue sensing most importantly supports basic biophysical and chemical scientific discovery, but a quick scan of the attendees of this workshop and their presentation content validates that we are, for the most part, applied scientists and engineers. The end products of our investigations are not academic, but are created in the support of decisions. Thus appropriately, we meet under the theme, “Linking Soil Sensing to Management Decisions.” Some come to sensing with soil or agronomy as their foundation; others learn of soil and crop management through their formal training in electronics and sensors. Regardless, the importance of what we do rests at the nexus of many disciplines as we learn to transform sensed soil properties into soil stewardship decisions. Those decisions range from crop and animal management, to conservation, to environmental protection. Soil sensing is trivial without meaningful response to the question, “So what?” It is in the application that value emerges. Thus, our efforts are centered on improving the capacity and economy of making management decisions through soil sensing. My challenge to you is, in your soil sensing campaigns, keep your focus on the decision.