Topic: Farmer Uncertainty and the Localised Ordering of Smart Farming Technology
This paper examines the significance of farmer uncertainty in the implementation of smart farming technology. Drawing upon Singleton and Law’s (2013) distinction between generalised and local forms of ordering, we investigate how smart farming technology engenders uncertainty and the ways in which farmers navigate this uncertainty in making such technology workable on-farm. Through the analysis of data from interviews with 59 Australian rice growers involved in the implementation of smart farming technology, the paper highlights two key ways in which uncertainty is intertwined in the ordering of smart farming. First, we argue that the commercial-technological ordering strategies of transnational machinery/technology companies generate dilemmas on the part of farmers over which machinery brand will best suit their needs, whether or not components from different brands will be interchangeable, the extent to which they will have to sacrifice autonomy and flexibility, and concerns with brand-related technical support. We refer to these dilemmas as the uncertainty of ordering. Second, we argue that farmers find different ways of managing these dilemmas. We refer to this as ordering uncertainty, and argue that it takes two principal forms: (a) standardising of smart farming equipment under one brand, and (b) reliance on independent local agronomists to assist in the implementation of smart farming technology. Under the first form of ordering, farmers prioritise pragmatism and convenience over concerns relating to loss of farm autonomy and flexibility, while under the second, flexibility, responsiveness, and finding locally appropriate farm and paddock-level solutions provide a strategy for avoiding lock-in to the technical norms of particular brands. In concluding, we argue that farmer uncertainty should not be treated only as a ‘barrier’ to adoption. It provides important insights into the complex ways in which farmers engage with smart farming technologies, the asymmetrical power relations engendered through this engagement, and the possibilities for contesting the commercial-technological ordering practices of machinery/technology manufacturers.