Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Maaz Gardezi


Agrarian question of labor, Capital acumulation Dispossession, Precision agriculture, Responsible innovation, Social identity


Farming has moved into a digital age where data and information are available to farmers to make informed agronomic and financial on-farm decisions. The development of precision agriculture (PA), such as big data technologies and machine learning algorithms is transforming the agricultural food production system in diverse ways, economically, environmentally, and socially. Despite benefits afforded by PA to agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability, these technologies can raise unintended societal challenges that can also limit their adoption among farmers. PA is changing how farming is done, reconstructing farmers’ social identities, and influencing relationships between farmers, agronomists, and technology developers. This dissertation attempts to explore the social and ethical implications of PA on farmers by understanding changes to their social practices and relationships with big data and technology firms. The study uses an interpretive qualitative analysis on six focus group discussions (FGDs) with 52 agricultural stakeholders in South Dakota and Vermont. The qualitative data is complemented with a follow-up survey with the FGD participants. Results highlight that the introduction of PA could necessitate farmers to learn and develop new competencies, such as flying drones and reading yield maps that are produced by data-based technologies. However, this new form of technological engagement also affects other farmers who are unable to meet the skill and competency demands of digital agriculture. This dissertation finds that ntroduction of PA can change the future of agrarian labor by serving a system of data and capital accumulation that can disproportionately benefit agricultural technology firms. Therefore, it becomes crucial to understand whether public and private sector organizations and institutions are prepared and willing to address farmers’ concerns about data ownership and access, privacy, and security. This dissertation concludes by suggesting possible ways through which PA could avoid exacerbating an existing social and digital divide between large-scale and small-scale farmers and between farmers and agribusiness. It proposes responsible innovation PA as a potential solution for a more inclusive design of PA.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Precision farming.
Precision farming -- Moral and ethical aspects.
Agricultural innovations.
Agricultural industries.
Agricultural productivity -- Technological innovations.
Farmers -- Psychology.
Group identity.
Social responsibility of business.

Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright