This is an open letter to the entire agriculture community.
Agriculture is getting ready to make a similar transition aviation made in the early 20th century. In the early 20th century the World War II era bombers transitioned from two to four engines. Four engines increased the complexity of the bomber to the point skilled pilots were losing their planes and their lives. The loss of life prompted the creation of a preflight checklist. The preflight checklist saved lives and made flying safer.
“If checklists make flying safer, then where is the pre-surgery checklist?” was a question posed by neurosurgeon Antal Gawande in his 2009 book “The Checklist Manifesto.” In this book he points out a checklist prevents mistakes of ineptitude. Mistakes of ineptitude differed from mistakes of ignorance. Mistakes of ignorance come from a lack of knowledge, while mistakes of ineptitude come from an improper use of knowledge.
The knowledge of a surgeon is vast; however, this vastness means little if, during surgery, a single gauze goes missing. A missing gauze left inside a patient can cause surgical complications. These complications could be easily avoided with a routine checklist.
Simple checklists could have saved many lives if introduced earlier in both the aviation and medicals fields. The field of agriculture is on the brink of undergoing the same complexity transition, so checklists need to be introduced into the future of farming vision now.
The following is a ficticious example of how a prefarm checklist could be envisioned..
The farmer gets up before daybreak and pulls out the pre-farm checklist. The pre-farm checklist is the farmer’s personal selection from a composite of suggestions from fellow farmers, local and national farm organizations, and the agbot manufacturer. The famer even gets a discount from the insurance company for faithful use of the pre-farm checklist. The checklist has suggestions for improving yield, protecting the environment, and assuring safety. Many suggestions came from the local government; however, the government does not mandate the checklist. The ever evolving checklist becomes the pride of the agriculture community as the checklist is the first line of defense ensuring agbots are used appropriately.
Going through the list, the farmer catches a few things. The first is a leak in one of the lead-acid batteries which is promptly replaced. The second involves his agbot being derived from a converted tractor. The tractor is not fully converted back to automatic mode because of an oversight by the last operator which left the agbot with no brake control. Brake control was returned by simply attaching the brake controller. The third is a glitch causing no signal in the right forward proximity sensor. The glitch turns out to be a simple loose terminal screw which is tightened. A fourth is a patch of mud on the rear camera, which is promptly cleaned. With the checklist cleared the farmer sends the agbot on its way to complete its mission which is set to run till late evening.
Before the evening is out, the farmer gets a text message that the proximity sensor on his agbot stopped it at the edge of the road. Going down the road the farmer finds a person with a camera poking around the agbot. The agbot stands silently by as the camera person explains his reason for stopping. Though the accent of this person sounds strange, the farmer has a cordial conversation and sends the person on his way. Upon review of the footage of the rear camera, the farmer realizes the person’s car had an out of state tag and a pro-dairy “got milk” bumper sticker. Knowing the person was simply a tourist interested in seeing an agbot, the agbot gets the “all-okay” signal to complete its mission.
As the sun sets, the agbot moves to its stop point and shuts down. The farmer knew the day went by without incident. With peace of mind the farmer rested well.