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Home > Article: “The Future is Now in Agricultural Technologies”

Article: “The Future is Now in Agricultural Technologies”

I appear online and in the April issue of Growing Produce magazine in Florida, talking about some trends impacting the future of agriculture.

The "robotic tractor of the future isn't too far away!

The “robotic tractor of the future isn’t too far away!

The Future Is Now In Agricultural Technologies
March 14, 2013
By Frank Giles

If you could look into a crystal ball and see the future of agriculture over the next 25 years, you would be blown away and find some of it hard to imagine. And, you might be surprised that what seems futuristic is already happening on the farm.

When considering the pace of technological advancements, Moore’s Law is constructive. It generally states that computing power doubles every two years (some say 18 months). While the computing power doubles, the price for the technology falls.

Think about Apple’s iPhone. Every year the company introduces two new-and-improved versions of the phone. Each one is a little faster and can do more stuff, while the earlier versions get cheaper in price.

While all these gee-whiz advancements seem to be happening most in consumer electronics, don’t be fooled. It is happening in agriculture, too. Jim Carroll and Jack Uldrich are two popular futurists on the speaking circuit across the U.S. Both say the wave of innovation impacting agriculture will be staggering in the coming years. “We live in tremendous times and tend to overlook the leaps we’ve made particularly in agriculture,” says Uldrich.

Sensors And Bots

The size of computer sensors are getting smaller, but more powerful over time, while the price drops. Imagine a watermelon field with tiny sensors spread thoughout connected to the vines to inform the grower exactly what plants need for water and other inputs. “These sensors are getting so affordable they already are being used in West Coast vineyards and on farms in Israel,” says Urldrich. “That may sound like science fiction, but who would have imagined 25 years ago that today we would have immediate access to the world’s encyclopedia in our pockets via the use of smartphones.”

Carroll says robotics will be having an impact on the farm quicker than people would believe. “The technology for autonomous vehicles is already pretty mature,” he says. “If you have a meeting with Google in San Jose, they’ll pick you up at the airport in an autonomous car. There’s a person inside ‘just in case.’ It will probably be easier to deploy on a farm than on a highway.

Given all the controversy around immigration reform, Uldrich says robots might fill in for harvest in the future.“There are people at MIT who have developed a robot so sophisticated that it can detect when a tomato is ripe and so sensitive it can pick it without damaging the fruit,” he says. “Robotic technology is getting better, faster, and more affordable. It will allow us to do much more in harvesting a wide variety of crops.”

A Whole New World

There is a viral YouTube clip of a 1-year-old girl trying to manipulate a print magazine like an iPad. She moves her fingers around the magazine to no avail — it does nothing. Give her an iPad and she’s delighted flicking through screens with her fingers.

Jack Uldrich marvels that technology is becoming so user-friendly and intuitive that a baby can figure it out. “What will that little girl expect for information as she gets older,” he asks. “She will want to interact with information. She will want to know who grew the oranges she buys. Social media already is providing this opportunity for interaction and the demand for it will only grow in the future.”

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