Technology moves at a rapid pace – so fast that experts breathlessly predict more will change in the next 10 years than it has in the last 100 years. No need to wait a decade to see what comes next, however. John Shutske, University of Wisconsin Extension biological systems specialist says there are several agtech trends playing out right now that farmers should watch closely.
"The rapid increase in technology changes that has expanded our computing capability has also caused decreases in the costs to do business," he says. "Through exponential growth, we've engaged in warp drive and are rapidly approaching light speed when it comes to changes in technology."
In particular, make note of these four areas, according to Shutske.
1. Computer capability. Shutske says there is a “virtual tsunami” of data now available to farmers. He sees the Internet of Things (sensors on real-world objects) being able to collect valuable field and equipment data. Imagine, he says, an air filter with an IP address that sends the manufacturer an email to order a replacement when one is needed. And increasingly, farmers will place sensors and other devices in the field to measure everything from weather information to pest pressures in real-time.
That puts more pressure on rural areas to find better solutions to broadband, high-speed Internet and mobile coverage to support these kinds of technologies.
2. Artificial intelligence. This trend will also be driven by massive amounts of data, Shutske says. Early ag applications could include anything from pest management to scheduling operations, optimizing animal health or making regular crop health assessments. Other industries have the jump on AI, and ag may not be too far behind.
“We’re seeing examples emerging in the health care industry of how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing healthcare,” Shutske says.
For example, the famous IBM computer system, Watson, has been sorting and looking for patterns in some 700,000 medical research articles on cancer treatments produced every year. That’s accelerating learning rapidly, as most oncology or cancer specialists typically read about 200 of these articles per year.
3. Autonomous vehicles. The technology has outpaced governmental regulations at this point, Shutske says. There is already extensive testing underway for autonomous cars, trucks and tractors.
“All the major car manufacturers are running large-scale highway trials,” he says. “Right now everyone is concerned about safety. At some point, things will shift, and safety will become the main selling point and reason to move ahead.”
4. The sharing economy. Anyone who has rented a house using AirBNB can easily see the appeal of sharing major assets, Shutske says. For instance, it can help justify purchasing expensive farm equipment that’s only used several weeks during the year if the farmer can rent that equipment out the rest of the time.
“In agriculture, we already have done some of this,” Shutske says. “In fact, we’ve done some of it for 100 years. Agriculture has been a leader in the cooperative business model.”
The process will be accelerated through apps and relationship data managing software that will make these sort of collaborative transactions much easier to manage.