SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The growth in precision agriculture was apparent when a record-high 1,100 attended the InfoAg Conference.

“That’s a significant growth in the size of this conference, and I think also quite reflective of what we’re seeing in the precision ag industry as a whole,” Steve Phillips, International Plant Nutrition Institute’s southeast U.S. region director, said in the opening session. “It’s a growing, energetic, exciting industry to be a part of, and I’m very happy all of you took time out of your busy schedule to attend the conference.”

Fittingly touted as the premier conference on precision agriculture, the three-day event focused on the application of precision technology and information management for crop production and featured a broad range of educational opportunities.

“We brought in some of the top speakers from literally around the world to address the emerging and ongoing topics in agronomy, business, engineering, policies and social issue surrounding precision agriculture,” Phillips said.

He commended the IPNI member companies and industry associations for supporting InfoAg.

“If we didn’t have the support of our member companies, then we wouldn’t have been able to make this event happen for the last 20 years,” he said. “Some people will ask: What is it about precision agriculture that would make the fertilizer industry invest so much effort into an event like this?

“I think to clearly understand why the fertilizer industry has such a strong interest in precision agriculture you need to know what our mission is at IPNI.”

IPNI’s mission is to develop and promote scientific information about the responsible management of plant nutrition for the benefit of the human family.

“We find responsible management as following the four Rs of nutrient stewardship. That’s to apply the right nutrient source at the right rate at the right time and in the right place,” Phillips said. “This is not as simple and straightforward as just a specific set of practices.

“This is a set of practices, interconnected, working together within the context of a cropping system, working toward management objectives that also work toward sustainability goals where we equally weigh economic, environmental and social factors.

“Without the tools and technologies, information management strategies and the partnerships that we establish here at the InfoAg Conference, we can’t achieve this goal.”

In order to make this puzzle come together at the core of four R nutrient stewardship, Phillips said, “it’s going to take all of us working together, and it’s going to be the precision ag industry that’s going to move four R stewardship and our mission forward in the coming decades.”

“Another puzzle that we solve here at InfoAg is one of connecting the dots. In this case, the dots are people,” he explained.

“We’re connecting people at InfoAg. From manufacturers, retailers, (research and development) industry, university research and Extension, advisers, consultants and practitioners, we all have a part in the plan to introduce relationships that can be formed and fostered an event like this that makes this happen.

“You can see how this conference has grown and the depth of the relationships and the partnerships that we’re able to form by bringing all levels of precision agriculture together at this one event are so much more powerful than what we can accomplish just by following each other on Twitter.

“Obviously, social media is a very important tool for us in communication and dissemination of information, but it is face time that InfoAg allows us to share that I think really allows us to be leaders in the coming decade.”

Referring to his presentation theme, “connecting the dots,” Phillips said the picture InfoAg is creating with the dots “is one that fits with IPNI’s mission of sustained production of food, feed, fiber and fuel around the globe.”

“This is not something that one entity can achieve. This is going to require teamwork,” he said.

“It’s going to require partnerships, and the precision ag industry is uniquely suited in the diversity of skill set that we all bring together to be leaders in this movement because we not only create pictures, we also need to change some pictures.

“One of the very serious pictures that we see is that of food security around the globe. Starvation, malnutrition and poverty are very real and very serious challenges that we must address head-on in the coming decade.

“If we’re going to be able to provide a nutritious safe food source for the growing population in the coming decade and do it in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way, it’s going to take all of us working together.”