A Digital Agricultural Revolution: Ontario Grain Farmer Perceptions of Digital Farming and Big Data
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Digital technologies and big data are revolutionizing agriculture, but the implications for equity and sustainability are uncertain. From big data climate forecasts and massive robotic tractors, to satellite pest control and precision agriculture drones, digital farming is taking off in traditional agribusiness and agri-food start-ups and receiving positive attention from governments and the media. Proponents claim that digital farming will improve efficiency, productivity, and profits for farmers and address food system challenges, including food security for a rapidly growing world population. Critics are concerned about the distribution of risks and benefits, particularly between farmers and corporations, as well as the possible adverse effects for justice, quality of life, and the environment. The digital agricultural revolution could either enhance or degrade food systems; however, it is more likely that the implications will be uneven and contradictory. While there is growing attention in the social sciences on the social and political implications of digital farming, there remains a dearth of empirical studies in the emerging discourse. This thesis considers the following research question: How do Ontario grain farmers perceive digital farming, and how do their perspectives compare to public debates and academic research? Given the prevalence of grain operations, high farming population, and leadership in ag-tech innovations, Ontario is an ideal context to study farmer perceptions of digital farming. To answer the research question, an abductive and constructivist study design employs a suite of qualitative methods in line with three objectives. First, a review of academic and grey literature identifies key narratives in digital farming debates, focusing on the views of proponents and critics. Second, a combination of qualitative methods – including an online questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, and fieldwork observations – generates a rich depiction of Ontario grain farmer perceptions of digital farming and the challenges and opportunities it presents. Third, abductive analysis considers the results as a whole to compare farmer perceptions with central themes in emerging discourses. Emphasizing political dimensions and farmer experiences, the discussion centres on the implications of digital farming for power relations, data concerns and knowledge, agricultural labour, and environmental impacts. The thesis offers empirical contributions and proposes directions for theory development in a nascent research community.
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Sarah-Louise Ruder (2019). A Digital Agricultural Revolution: Ontario Grain Farmer Perceptions of Digital Farming and Big Data. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/14878