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Building a "Better" Farmer: The Development of Data-Driven Agriculture Tools

Wed, September 4, 8:00 to 9:30am, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Floor: Five, Grand Ballroom B


Ideas about what an American farmer should be have evolved over time in response to various commercial, governmental, and social pressures. The down-to-earth agrarian farmer who is rooted in land, family, and community; the business-savvy industrial farmer who seeks to maximize efficiency and productivity through rational management practices; and the sustainable farmer who lives and works in harmony with the nonhuman world; these are powerful imaginaries that influence how we think about farming and how farmers think about their own work. Agricultural technology providers (ATPs) draw on these imaginaries to create their own versions of the ideal farmer, which are reified in their software products.

My ongoing ethnographic study of ATPs explores the changing nature of farm work (involving the combination of sensors, algorithms, and networking technologies variously referred to as “precision agriculture,” “digital farming,” and “Big Data in agriculture”) and the role of ATPs in this shift. Through semi-structured interviews and observations focused on the software development process, I attempt to answer questions such as: What problem framings do ATPs use to talk about their products, and how do these framings include or exclude different types of farmers? How does the design of the software constrain farmers' practices? More broadly, how do ATPs reinforce and/or challenge the dominant, productivist model of farming? This work will shed light on how sociotechnical imaginaries are translated into farming practice through the medium of software.


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