Ag Technology: On the Brink of a Revolution

Agriculture technology
( Farm Journal )

Fifty years ago, your parents or grandparents might have balked if you told them what the future of farming would look like. Automation, biotechnology, digital tracking, the list goes on—and it’s only going to grow. Fifty years from now technology will likely evolve to a level unimaginable today

“Ag is the least digitized industry—but I think that gap is narrowing,” says Vonnie Estes, vice president of technology of the Produce Marketing Association. “Tech is coming into ag and into the food supply chain as it is in other industries. Tech is important to us because we’re close to the consumer [in produce production], and they want more traceability and knowledge about the foods they eat.”

In addition, growing labor challenges mean producers are up against a wall: they need to produce more and track how they’re producing it, but they don’t have the resources needed to get crops out of the ground. In fact, thousands of acres of produce in California rotted in fields this past year because of this issue.

The future will be influenced by a number of factors and revolutions in technology, according to Estes.:

  • Technology found in biomedicine and the tech industry is being adapted for agricultural production.
  • Biological advancements are being propelled forward by gene editing, research into soil ecosystems and digital biology.
  • Digital technologies including sensors, imaging, robotics and big data/machine learning tools are helping farmers make better decisions—and only getting more precise.

“[Advancements in technology] started with mechanical and chemical, then moved to genetics with better breeding and today we’re moving into things like gene editing,” Estes says. “And a lot of [these advancements] are based on data.”

Seed and chemical companies are using data to change the way and speed at which they bring products to market.

“We’re bringing new products to market at a pace of 4- to 5-years,” says Bob Reiter, Bayer global head of research and development, crop science.

Bayer scientists use data and information they have about each inbred, hybrid and variety in their research to inform new genetics and traits they bring to the market. When a new desirable trait is discovered they can insert it into the newest genetics with greater precision than ever before.

“[We want to help farmers discover] how they can use the best data to make the best decisions,” says Lisa Safarian, Bayer president and head of commercial operations for crop science North America. “Innovation isn’t only about a seed, gallon of chemical or the next trait. The innovation of tomorrow isn’t about a specific product, it’s about how we pull data together to use it more precisely to optimize yield on every acre.”

Cooperation and Collaboration Critical to Move into a New Age of Tech in Ag

One company alone will not bring farming into a new age of technology—it’s going to take many companies and big ideas from across and outside the industry. Watch for external expansion and outsourcing in ag, says Vonnie Estes, vice president of technology of the Produce Marketing Association.

Externally, watch for big companies to continue buying smaller companies to access their technologies. Companies will continue to expand and adopt new technologies and companies large and small will outsource or create cooperative agreements to afford new technologies.

Companies will also use cooperation to outsource research and tasks, Estes says. This ‘build it together’ strategy could bring more technology to more people, faster. Also watch for traceability using blockchain technology to become more of the norm as consumers demand more transparencies about the food they eat.