Environmental Impacts of Digital Agriculture Technologies: Perspectives from Canadian Oilseed and Grain Farmers
Canadian farmers are met with the multifaceted challenge of producing enough food to meet growing populations while adjusting to novel weather patterns and meeting climate change targets (Crippa et al., 2021; FAO, 2016). Concurrently, digital agriculture technologies, such as smart tractors, sensors, algorithmic modelling and farm management software are increasingly employed with the promise of higher yields, efficiency, and reduced environmental impacts (Glaros et al., 2022; Townsend et al., 2019; Weersink et al., 2018). Though these technologies have immense potential for climate change adaptation and mitigation, research on the environmental impact of digital agriculture technologies requires significant attention, as many of the benefits remain largely hypothetical and unclear (Clapp and Rudder, 2020; Green et al., 2021; Lajoie-O’Malley et al., 2020).
Motivated by the need for additional research on the environmental impacts of digital agriculture, this research aims to understand how Canadian farmers use digital agriculture technologies to reduce their environmental impacts. This study focuses on Canadian oilseed and grain farmer perceptions of the environmental implications of digital agriculture technologies, and the various barriers they experience when using these technologies. This research involves a mixed-methods study, employing analysis of a survey completed by 781 oilseed and grain farmers, as well as interviews with 20 farmers and industry experts. The findings of this research suggest that digital agriculture technologies can help minimize a farming operation’s environmental impact and will be beneficial in maintaining food security amongst changing climates and landscapes. This study also highlights that though these technologies can be environmentally beneficial, farmer knowledge and decision making is the main driver of mitigating on-farm environmental impacts. Thus, these technologies should be viewed as a tool to provide farmers with additional data and techniques to inform their decision making, rather than an ultimate solution to food system sustainability.