Deliberative assembling : Tinkering and farmer agency in precision agriculture implementation
Higgins, Vaughan; van der Velden, Daniël; Bechtet, Noemie; Bryant, Melanie; Battersby, Jane; Belle, Melissa; Klerkx, Laurens
Assemblage thinking is an increasingly influential approach in critical studies of food and farming, and particularly in research on new agri-food technology such as precision agriculture (PA). This research is important in highlighting the distributed forms of power and agency through which farming worlds are assembled, and what these engender for more sustainable and equitable farming futures. However, to date, there has been limited attention to assembling PA from the perspective of farmers, what Legun and Burch (2021) refer to as ‘deliberative assembling’. This paper contributes to knowledge in this area by applying post actor network theoretical work to investigate across case studies in Australia, the Netherlands and France, the forms of tinkering by which farmers attempt to make PA workable, and what these engender for farmer agency. Through our analysis, we show that much of the tinkering by farmers is aimed at holding together their own priorities, routines, and experiences with practices inscribed in PA technology, such as dependence on commercial advice, data-driven knowledge, and commitment to a single technological platform/company. Integral to this tinkering work are support networks that include agronomists, advisors, machinery dealers and/or farmer discussion groups. We argue that whilst these support networks are critical to holding together different practices, and making PA workable, they also play a more diverse and nuanced role in PA implementation than what has previously been recognised. Our case studies provide insights into three key forms of tinkering used by farmers in navigating support networks to make PA workable – disconnection, experimentation and trial-and-error, and trade-offs and compromises – and the specific distributions of agency which these tinkering practices engender. In conclusion, we argue that a tinkering lens provides a valuable approach for enabling agri-food scholars to tease out in greater depth deliberative assembling practices and how these variously open-up or foreclose options for farmers in making PA workable.