Today, nobody questions whether new technology is getting cheaper. But that was not the case back in 1992, when I returned to Iowa State to earn my MBA. In preparation for my new endeavor, I decided to purchase my first personal computer. I bought a sleek, new Gateway 386 computer for the low price of $1,382.95. Sure it was no Red Ryder BB gun, but for a computer, it was a beauty. I distinctly remember my older brother Bob telling me it was more computer than I would ever need.
Shortly after buying it, I remember attending one of my MBA classes in a lecture room of 50 students. I suggested that in the future, computers would get both better and cheaper. My professor chastised me for thinking that computers would get cheaper. He said computers would get more powerful, but there was no practical business model that would encourage a manufacturer to charge less for more computing power. At the time, I felt pretty stupid. But hey, who turned out to be wrong on this one!
Even in today’s environment of cheap technology, I get the same reaction when I talk about making conservation cheaper. It seems everyone just assumes conservation is expensive and not much can be done about it. Conventional wisdom, therefore, says the only way to increase conservation implementation is to increase public funding or regulate farmers. NEWS FLASH: Maybe another way to get more conservation on the ground is to use technology to reduce the cost of conservation and make it more affordable.
So, which should we choose? Should we increase public funding (more taxes) or reduce the cost of conservation implementation (efficiency)? Duh! Instead of sticking our heads in the sand, we should at least try efficiency. Maybe we should invest in new technology like LiDAR. Maybe we should provide incentives for earthmoving contractors to adopt machine control technology so they can move dirt cheaper and more precisely. Maybe we should try doing some structural planning remotely instead of thinking we need to make a field visit. We simply cannot afford to go to the field to plan every practice. Lastly, maybe we ought to encourage the private sector to plan and apply conservation. I can assure you, if we correctly incentivize the private sector, they will figure out how to reduce the cost of conservation.
In 20 years, could we have better conservation technology that is cheaper than it is today? Lets revisit the business model for conservation. If we are going to succeed we must make conservation cheaper. There are a lot of ways to do it, but it all begins with updating technology and how we think. Otherwise, we will just continue to plod along.
If you buy into Clayton’s “innovator’s dilemma” and “disruptive innovation” then one would propose the farmer switches from the ‘conservation customer’ to a ‘sustainability supplier’.
It is plausible or perhaps required for success because 20 years ago, the government was the only demander for conservation and the top-down conservation delivery system worked. Now there are easily a half-dozen, maybe a dozen entities demanding sustainability, simultaneously from the same parcel of land.
The innovator’s dilemma says we need to get better and better at delivery conservation to the farmer. Disruptive innovation says we need to now deliver sustainability to the demanders.
The irony of the term “disruptive innovation” is that it is not really disruptive in the typical means of anguish, but creates efficiencies and profit using new relationships. Sure some have to adapt, but don’t we all.
It’s nice read the concept of promoting cheaper technology and not putting the burden added burden on the taxpayer for implementing conservation. Yes, as technology has seen a drastic price collapse so should the ability to implement certain practices be made cheaper to do. The opposite, and painful scenario we experience, is the advent of federal grants, loans, student aid, ect… for higher education and the price of secondary education goes lockstep with the rate of funding.
However, the struggle still remains that the private sector does not have enough professionals to assist in the implementation and design of the plans. With 13,500 CCA’s and about 800 CPAg’s, many of us are already in agronomy retail work. My guess is about 7,000 of the CCA’s are already in a retail function.
The only means to “incentivize the private sector” is to educate the same. The primary obstacle is a lack of desire to be educated. It has restrained proper conservation practices for hundreds of years … too many already know it all, and don’t want outsiders telling them they are doing it all wrong, regardless of whether it will save them money over the long term.