I’m featured in the July/August issue of AgriSuccess, the national publication of the Farm Credit Coop of Canada. You can read the article below, or access the PDF through the image.
Sadly, they printed only a small part of the interview! I dug into my e-mail archive, and so you’ll find the ‘missing bits’ after the end of the article below!
- Development of Ag Ant and photonic weed detection next steps in crop management
- Be open but cautious when looking at new technology
- Crowd thinking making a big impact on technological change
- Acceleration of science has profound implications for agriculture
Acknowledged as one of the world’s leading global futurists, Jim Carroll has an extensive list of blue chip clients and has delivered keynote addresses around the world. He has operated his own advisory firm, J.A. Carroll Consulting, since 1989.
What equipment innovations do you see for agriculture in the years ahead?
At the University of Illinois, they have developed what they call the ‘AgAnt.’ It’s a prototype for an automated robot that can assess and detect stress, disease, weeds, soil status and pests. And at Edith Cowan University, they’re working to develop a ‘photonic weed detection system.’ It aims a series of laser pulses at the field, which are reflected back. A photo-detector then analyzes the information and provides instruction to a spray cylinder and valve as to where to apply a treatment.
Science is real. Science is fast. Science is accelerating. And agriculture is science.
I find it increasingly difficult to keep on top of many trends, simply because it is happening so fast. Just five years ago, I was on stage in Las Vegas speaking about this fascinating new, future idea of ‘3D printing.’ And then, just last year, I found myself on stage in front of a group of dental professionals, talking about the fact that 3D printing of dental implants, crowns and other implants, was coming into the industry at a very fast pace. 3D printing is expected to have ramifications for agriculture too. For instance, your local equipment dealership might in some cases be able to “print” a replacement part that you need.
You’ve said there have been some stunningly bad predictions in past decades. As we consider the range of current predictions, how should we sort the good from the bad?
That’s a tough one. Maybe the best ‘worst’ predictions were the ones that rockets would never reach the moon, or Bill Gates’s comment that 640K should be enough for everyone! And yet, some people carry it to extremes suggesting we will soon have elevators that will take us to space or to the moon. How do we sort out the real from the fanciful? Be open, but cautious.
You note that aggressive indecision often kills innovation in companies. Why is this happening?
During the economic downturn in 2001-02, I noticed that many of my clients, regardless of the industry, seemed to have lost their sense of direction. Quite simply, people decided not to make decisions – and they seemed to like it.
The result is an economy in which everyone seems to be stuck in a rut, unwilling and unable to move forward.
Why is this happening? In part, fear of the unknown. And that extends into the world of agriculture. We have a lot of farmers who are afraid to make decisions because the next unforeseen event might prove to have negative consequences.
So what do you do? Do you wallow in indecision, or make aggressive moves to position for a future in which ag only has an upside? I’m in the latter camp.
First, look for the warning signs: a mindset that is averse to any type of risk, an absence of any new product or marketing initiatives, or an organization that is stuck in a rut, wheels spinning, and no one has decided even to call a tow truck.
Second, realize that aggressive indecision means you’ll likely have to respond to external pressures faster than ever before. That’s because while people have learned they can hold off until the very last minute, they are also learning they can still get things right. This leads to a business cycle that involves extended periods of frustrated waiting, followed by a blur of activity as organizations rush about to respond to customers’ demands for instant action.
Third, be prepared to make bold decisions. Want to test it? Find the one big decision you’ve been deferring the longest, and decide one way or the other. Right now.
Technological change has been rapid in the past two decades. Will the rate of change slow, stay the same or accelerate in the years ahead?
It’s certainly going to accelerate – that’s why my tag line has become ‘the future belongs to those who are fast.’ There are numerous reasons why it is speeding up. Certainly the idea of ‘crowd thinking’ is having a big impact. We’ve got this big, global collaborative thinking and research machine with the Internet today.
Science itself is accelerating. The new global mind generates new knowledge at furious rates. We’re going from 19 million known chemical substances today to 80 million by 2025 – and five billion by 2100. The discovery of a single chemical substance permitted Apple to miniaturize a hard disk for the first iPad, which led to the birth of a new billion-dollar market.
The acceleration of science has profound implications for agriculture, since much of ag is science-dependent. Consider bio-genomics. The cost to sequence human, animal and plant genomes is collapsing at the same pace that the cost of computer chips collapsed.
Science is real. Science is fast. Science is accelerating. And agriculture is science.
Stuff that didn’t make the cut!
In some of your presentations you talk about the rise of urban farming and jobs for vertical farm infrastructure managers. Most farmers that I know see urban farming as a quaint idea rather than something that will feed a significant number of people. What’s your take on it?
It’s simple — the simple fact is that global food production has to double in the next 30 years to keep up with population growth, and there is little new arable land coming online.
Add to that some basic realities from an international perspective: By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Africa is urbanizing so fast that by 2030 it will cease to be a rural continent
Those trends are already leading to the rapid growth of urban farming. I dug out research that shows that there already there are 800 million ‘city-farmers’ according to UN statistics — some 25% of population of Burkina Faso, 35% in Cameroon, 63% in Kenya, 68% in Tanzania. Consider this: 90% of the fresh vegetables in Accra, Ghana come from farming within the city! That’s why we are seeing a lot of agricultural research and innovation around the idea of vertical farming … and hence, a new profession of farmers involved in this field.
Vertical farming is just an example of the massive types of innovaton occuring throughout the global agricultural sector. That’s why futurists like me exist : our job is to remind those who are very involved in day to day realities, and who don’t have a lot of time to think about what comes next, that there is a tremendous amount of change occuring out there.
Lets’ come back to the idea of vertical farming — visit http://vertical-farming.net, which is a global initiative that brings together researchers, academics and others involved in this field. 20 years ago, we didn’t have that type of global mind, but today, we do. This provides for a lot of collaborative thinking, research and idea sharing. This accelerates the pace of innovation and discovery.
Or take a look at http://www.instructables.com/id/Vertical-Hydroponic-Farm/ . This is an example of a community where people are using low-cost computers known as “Raspberry Pi’s” ($5 to $35 per computer) to advance vertical farming concepts. Sure, it might involve hydroponics, but the fact that tech-enthusiasts can share softawre and code also accelrates technology.
Is there any risk from relying on too much leading edge technology?
There is a tremendous amount of risk — privacy, security, criminal activities, social and ethical challenges. The list goes on. That doesn’t mean the pace of technological change is going to slow down.
When I talk about this on stage, I often help people think about their discomfort with change by quoting Ogden Nash, who observed that, ‘for some people, progress is great, but its gone on way too long.’ That I think captures in a nuthsell the reality that we faced with today. Many in my generation — baby boomers — are extremely uncomfortable with the rapid change that envelopes us.
But I really believe that its going to be differen with the next generation : my sons are 21 and 23, and I really believe they are a part of a generation that has a different view with respect to technological change. They’ve already grown up in a world in which they’ve witnessed the arrival and disappearance of entire technologies: think about DVD-players. I often talk about how they view some things from my life as being ‘things from the olden days’ — 35mm film, TV guides, CD’s.
Those young people are coming into the world of agriculture today — they’re taking over the family farm, or working within large industrial or agriculture cooperatives. They’re open to new ideas, new ways of working, and paritcuularly, new technologies.
They’re sitting in the combine with an iPad, an iPhone, and are eager to utilize rapidly evolving precision farming technoogies to achieve that year over year yield increase.
And when it comes to the risk of rapidly evolving technologies, I think they will deal with it in very different ways.
At least, I hope so. As a futurist, I have to stay relentlessly optimistic!