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Highly related, but never resolved: Is agriculture on topic?

The site has had several agriculture-related questions of late, the vast majority of which have been closed as off-topic. The most recent question related to agriculture asked [What is the real impact of Precision Agriculture? This question has been closed as off-topic. It is this question that has caused me to write this meta question.

There is absolutely nothing in the official site documentation that indicates that questions related to agriculture are off-topic. To the contrary, the site has an tag has a usage guidance, but no details. The usage guidance says agriculture is

The cultivation of food and materials, specifically from or derived from plants and animals using traditional or modern industrial practices.

That strongly implies, at least to me, that all of agriculture is on topic at this site. Given that, the basis for closing the recent spate of agriculture questions is (at least to me) dubious. This is not like the recent "let's stop identifying rocks" debate. Those rock questions were of very limited applicability. Questions about agriculture can have a much wider applicability than can even the best rock ID question.

That said, there are reasons that we might want to continue to close questions related to agriculture.

  1. Questions on agriculture are even more boring than are questions about rock identification. Note very well: I wrote the above with my tongue deeply impaled in my cheek.

  2. There are other stackexchange sites that can answer some questions related to agriculture. The Sustainable Living and Gardening & Landscaping SE sites certainly have some overlap with regard to agriculture; the former even has an agriculture tag. Perhaps more surprising, the Geographic Information Systems also addresses some agricultural questions; this site also has an agriculture tag. Of particular interest is that the GIS SE site has a number of questions (with answers!) regarding precision agriculture.

  3. We don't have the expertise to answer such questions. This might well be the real reason. If that is the case, we should admit this short falling. But note very well: Taking this route is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Regardless of the outcome of the discussion, the agriculture tag is in need of refinement. The refinement is simple if the end result of this discussion is that all questions related to agriculture are off-topic.

If the decision is that some questions related to agriculture are on-topic but others are off-topic, good luck coming up with a rationale. Whether a question related to agriculture is left open or has been closed as off-topic has been highly capricious. Closing a question as off topic that integrates multiple aspects of the Earth Sciences (which is exactly what precision agriculture does) seems a bit ... odd.

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Many agricultural questions are on-topic, but not all, so I don't think a blanket yes is appropriate. I'll answer this similarly to economic geography, with some examples. Is agriculture on-topic? It depends!

Agriculture is very broad and many agricultural questions have Earth Science elements to it, but there are certainly agriculture questions for which Earth Science does not have the expertise to answer it and never will, which should therefore remain off-topic. Agriculture includes not only Earth Science, but also questions concerning law, economics, animal health, religion¹, technical details, and other aspects.

Some questions I made up, which I would expect to be all on-topic on a dedicated agriculture site:

  • How can I tell if my ewe is pregnant? — off-topic, but undoubtedly about agriculture
  • How do I estimate how much grazing my land can handle? — on-topic (with appropriate detail)
  • How can I configure machine X for spreading only half the concentration of pesticides? — off-topic, technical equipment of no interest to Earh Scientists
  • How can I determine a sustainable upper boundary for pesticide X in conditions Y? — on-topic, it's about soil, hydrology, environmental impacts
  • What are my legal obligations if I want to move my hedgerow? — off-topic

See also those recently asked agricultural questions across the network, which illustrate the large variety of aspects of agricultural questions, some of which are relevant for Earth Science, some of which are not.

I'd argue the same about mining. Questions about the geology or the impact of mining are on-topic, but on understanding the instruction manual for some piece of mining equipment are not. However, mining questions aren't nearly as scattered as agriculture questions: there are sixteen sites with agriculture questions, and only seven for mining, where it means something completely different in the top three (Ethereum, Monero, and Stack Overflow); interestingly, Space SE has more than twice as many mining questions as Earth Science. Not sure what that says about our communities :)


¹Of all the agricultural questions across the network, the Judaism site is second only tho Worldbuilding in number of questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, but not quite enough to accept it, primarily because this answer does not suggest a way forward. I agree that the hypothetical "How can I tell if my ewe is pregnant?" is off-topic here, as is the non-hypothetical "How to keep sheep from eating cows grain?" As a non-hypothetical example of a closed question, I argue that the closed question on precision agriculture is very much on-topic precisely because precision agriculture depends very much on many aspects of the Earth sciences. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 11 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ So what is the path forward? At a minimum there should be a modification to the agriculture tag and a new answer to Where can I ask agriculture-related questions? on the parent meta site. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 11 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen I agree, but let's wait a bit, my answer has only been up for a day and your question has only had 27 views in 5 days. I've featured the question so more people can weigh in. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 11 at 12:02
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I think the main point is, what is earth science and what does it entail?

I still stand by the answer I gave to Is agriculture on-topic?.

As long as questions with an agricultural element concern themselves with the earth sciences aspects of agriculture such as, but not limited to: soil science; meteorology, ground water; land use and its impact on the environment, whether it be local or more widespread, then such questions would be on topic.

However, when questions about agriculture are more about agricultural technologies and methodologies such as the best way to use heavy machinery or improving crop yields then such questions would be off topic.

I also agree with the other answer given, written by @haresfur.

... I would also consider plant breeding for yield or quality to be off topic, but breeding to respond to climate change or water stress, might be on topic in some cases. Questions regarding incorporation of earth-science into crop modelling would be on topic.

I also tend to agree with your third point, we most likely don't have the expertise to answer most questions about agriculture. I would like this site to have more members who could answer such questions.

Other aspects of this site are it's diversity: meteorology, geology, oceanography, geophysics, seismology, ecology, environmental science, climate, glaciology, atmospheric science, hydrology, soil science, ... We have a significant number of members, but compared to other SE sites, only a small number are very active.

As to whether the question What is real impact of Precision Agriculture? is on topic, what is the earth science element to the question? I'm quite prepared to vote to re-open it, but is " ... whole farm management with the goal of optimizing returns on inputs while preserving resources ..." really about earth science, or is it about anthropogenic changes to the earth (farming) and its benefit to humans? Convince me which fork in the road I should take.

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  • $\begingroup$ By way of analogy, there are 34 questions tagged mining on the main site, with not a single one of them closed. That's fewer than the number of questions tagged agriculture. Why is mining on topic but agriculture is not? Mining uses many aspects of the Earth sciences, but it is not an Earth science per se. (It is perhaps "Earth engineering".) Precision agriculture can also be categorized as "Earth engineering", and also uses many aspects of the Earth sciences, possibly more than does mining. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 7 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ As far as your answer to the original "Is agriculture on topic?", your answer was not accepted; no answer was. There was no resolution to that original question. The agriculture tag has not been modified and the parent meta.stackexchange.com question that seems to tell people to ask their agriculture questions at EarthSciences.SE has not been modified. So there is work to do if we want to continue banning most agriculture questions. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 7 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Although Freds answer wasn't accepted there (it is now; thanks for reminding me of it) it does have 10 upvotes and 0 downvotes, so there seems to be a consensus on it. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 10 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit -- ten upvotes and one downvote, the new downvote because not one thing has been done elsewhere to justify what appear to be capricious votes to close. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 11 at 11:41
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tl;dr

Is Earth Science = Geoscience? If yes, please note the array of topics covered by the Australian geoscience governmental office or by the South African one . They include mining, climate, flooding but not agriculture (although some soil investigations are carried on there). Is Earth Science more than Geoscience? then yes, definitely agriculture belongs here.


Main issue is that this channel is "Earth Science" and to the layman Earth = everything physically, chemically or electrically connected to the Earth. One potato plant may be gardening, but large scale potato cultivation is to the layman/laywoman either business or earth science (and he is very well right ... should he look for the answer in he Religion channel?). Hedge trimming is landscaping gardening, but knowing what kind of soil (composition and pH) is suitable to hedge growing will obviously be earth science.

So agriculture, earthquake, thunderstorms, floodings, plants all belong here.

If the name of the channel was geoscience, that is another story, but since it is Earth Science, agriculture questions should be welcome here.

Regarding mining: why shouldn't it be Earth Science? If we discuss weather since it is a byproduct of climate, then we can discuss mining which is a byproduct of tectonics and fluid movement.

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  • $\begingroup$ Knowing what kind of soil is suitable to hedge growing is an agriculture question and suitable to Earth Science. But knowing how to keep a lamb healthy is also agriculture, as is understanding the criteria for an ecological label on ones products. Do you think those agricultural questions should be ontopic or offtopic? $\endgroup$ – gerrit yesterday
  • $\begingroup$ Animals = biology meta.stackexchange.com/questions/257553/… However, agriculture = earth science. So I would not label offtopic a question about how to keep a lamb healthy (plus the answer is likely not biology, it is likely to be "give it enough space, nourishment and water") Ecological label certainly does, since they should refer to complete life-cycle analysis of emissions and raw material consumption (water, etc...) as well as land consumption (erosion, impoverishment etc...). $\endgroup$ – EarlGrey yesterday
  • $\begingroup$ Meeting the criteria for the ecological label may involve aspects of Earth Science, but actually getting the label involves bureaucracy. Where to apply and how is not an Earth Science question, but it's part of the agricultural business. $\endgroup$ – gerrit 14 hours ago
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit Well, it then depends: if the question on the label is "why it requires this and that", the answer may be earth science related (i.e.: in some regions, to have a certified organic field, the nearby fields must be organic as well or at least not having a certain range of chemicals applied to them for the past 5 years). If the question is "how long will my investment in ecolabel to get repaid" then it is safe to move the question to the money or enterpreneurship channels (do they exist? IDK) $\endgroup$ – EarlGrey 13 hours ago

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