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Technology in Agriculture: Overload or Opportunity?

If you were asked to define technology, what would you say? Software? Internet applications? Mobile hardware? Advances in heavy equipment? SaaS? Web 2.0? QR codes? Wireless networking? Biotechnology? You’re right – all are related to technology in some fashion.

origins technology women laptopOrigin of Technology

Let’s travel back to Greece to find where the word technology originated. Technology was from the Greek (an Indo-European language) term technologia; “Techo”, meaning an art, trade, or skill and “logia”, meaning speech or reasoning. I think technology is about articulating or clearly using a skill or trade – basically a practical application.

Technology in Agriculture

satellite technology world space

Guest writer Nate J. Taylor currently works in business development at ZedX, Inc. In this role he is responsible for the sales and marketing activities for all of ZedX’s product lines. In addition to sales and marketing, he plays a crucial role in the development of new product lines by working with customers to obtain their needs and then generates the functional requirements necessary to begin the software development process.

Technology, no matter which definition you use, is an integral part of the business of agriculture; dairy, broad acre, specialty, fiber, aqua, greenhouse, etc. I’m focusing on equipment and information technology since it’s such a broad field. In the business of agriculture, we are constantly looking for methodologies to easily implement and ensure a viable business, protect the environment and better our society through safe, healthy nutritious food, feed, fiber, and fuel. We look to advances in technology as an aid; one piece of the puzzle, if you will.

Equipment

We now have very advanced equipment across all segments of agriculture. These machines are becoming smarter and smarter with each new model year. Even more exciting are the advancements in sensor technologies that allow John Deere, CNH and other equipment manufacture to install sensors on their equipment, collect the on-the-go in-field data, and push it back “up” the value chain! Just think about the data available to be automatically collected out in the field; weather, soil, crop vigor, growth stage, soil temperature, biomass, elevation and much more.There is so much data available that information overload is an understatement! We are also making strides in the area of emissions, machinery design, and robotics.

Information

Remote sensing technology is used by farmers and other agriculture professionals to aid in their decision making, and many times the files are large (they are pictures after all), so obtaining and storing the data is challenging. This is where the advancements in architecture and database design have really had an impact. The advancements in managing information have been a boon for us geeky agricultural types. We now can begin to think about scenario planning, model development, building true decision support systems, and really dial in our work to support farmers. As more and more information is able to be economically collected, the more we can use the latest and greatest algorithms and database structure(s) to provide the pertinent data to farmers, agricultural service providers (ASP’s), cooperatives, and food companies.

What’s Next?

PrecisionAg.com had a good post on their thoughts the 5 to technology trends in agriculture. I tend to agree with Eric Sfiligoj and Harold Freetz on one trend; database integration, particularly the management and display of data sets, which is a part of managing large databases. I believe agriculture is ready to undertake this task, indeed pushing for it as more agriculture professionals are beginning to understand the high value in working from web based applications. Some companies are already fully web based and most of the new entrants are touting their web based abilities, and for good reason! Farmers and others want to see their data as quickly as possible. And not only that, they want to see data layers, field history, application records, remote sensed images, and more…..on their laptop or smart phone. One of the drivers of this is that broadband service, whether fixed or mobile, is becoming more ubiquitous as you can see from this report by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Now we are by no means where we should be, but the trend line is going in the right direction.

Information technology has advanced leaps and bounds giving agriculture the opportunity to really move forward with extensive management of high resolution data sets, adoption of fully web based applications and mobile applications, and utilization of cloud based solutions. These are not distant research or multi-year projects. These are here, now. So be sure to ask your provider about the state of their “technology”

Earlier I made the statement about information overload for two reasons. 1.) I believe strongly that if you are going to collect data, collect ALL the data. Yes, all of it. 2.) It’s where innovation can take root. So keep this in mind when collecting data; you just do not know when you may have a need for it later on down the line as technological advancements take place, especially in science. And I am very glad I have this philosophy of collect it all because all the data used to mean multiple drives, 3 people to manage it, and 4 laptops/PC’s running all the time for computation. Now, 1/8 person equivalent, 1 laptop running 2 hours, and 1 portable hard drive. As for the innovation side, there are visionaries that are always thinking many years out. What I love most about a true visionary is how they speak in the present tense about things that do not exist yet. Today’s data you collect may sit in a database today un-queried, but tomorrow it may be the foundation for a new algorithm; innovation indeed.

So what’s next? Complex databases operating in the cloud providing data that is easily obtained and displayed on the web, easy to use, and most of all designed in a way that the service integrates into your current business activities. The end result is less work and more informed management decisions.

So, if you were asked to define technology as it pertains to agriculture, what would you say?

~ guest post by Nate J. Taylor

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3 Responses to “Technology in Agriculture: Overload or Opportunity?”

  1. Opportunity – Exciting Time to be in Agriculture

    Everyday we work with the agricultural community to help maximize the potential in growing crops more effectively and efficiently and responsibly. This fall, through technology and most importantly trained people, we were able to receive over 30,000 soils in one day and have reported results out to growers in three days to help growers manager their fields. This is one example. We work daily with all sectors in agriculture and will continue to try and assist people in their ability to deliver a quality product or service. It’s a responsibility that all of us should share and embrace. Now, is an exciting time to be in Agriculture and the best part is that it will always marry people with technology. I can’t think of a better industry to be in.

    Brent Pohlman
    Marketing Director – Midwest Laboratories

  2. Nate Taylor says:

    Brent,

    I could not agree more. I truly appreciate every moment I get to spend in the field of Agriculture, and the atmosphere is exceptionally right for innovation given the advancements in data collection and computing power.

    I will be on the road a great deal starting in January and hope to finally connect up.

    Best,
    NJT

  3. Jan says:

    When I was working on my book I came across a thing Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about technology – in that case it was ‘modern’ stoves and heaters that didn’t require wood, with the resulting soot and dirt. One thinks now of that (yes Little House on the Prarie Laura!) as the “good old days” – but technology we struggle with now may be the same 50-100 years from now or more.

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