"Digital" plants and the rise of responsible precision agriculture

In Angela Kallhoff, M. Di Paola & M. Schörgenhumer (eds.), Plant Ethics. Routledge. pp. 213-220 (2018)
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Although agricultural mechanization, hybrid cultivars, the Green Revolution, and modern biotechnology have been implemented on a global scale, conventional farmers still have to face a lot of ethical debate and criticism. From a plants ethics perspective, they are challenged by organic farmers to reorganize their practices in a responsible way, and no longer consider plants as mere instruments. However, by embracing the development of precision farming, conventional crop production seems to turn in the opposite direction and tends to become large-scale digitalized robot farming. By integrating many kinds of data, precision farming technologies can be conceived as creating ‘digital’ plants as next step in the instrumentalization of crop plants. In this chapter we first discuss the main approaches to plant ethics. We use the concept of “flourishing” as our starting point for addressing the moral status of plants. On this basis, we develop a framework for ‘digital’ plants and apply it to several key technologies that have influenced the development of precision farming: sensing technologies, data processing and utilization, and control technologies. Finally, we discuss the possibility to develop a responsible precision farming of crop plants, based on a plant ethics of flourishing.



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Vincent Blok
Wageningen University and Research

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