Revolutionary Rethinking

January 10, 2018 08:21 AM
AgTech Expo keynote speakers share a glimpse of what could be the future of ag

When someone asks, “what do you do?” and you respond you’re a farmer, John Ellis says that’s the wrong answer. “You are a technologist who has chosen to deliver farm products,” Ellis told attendees at the 2017 Farm Journal AgTech Expo.

 As a veteran of the mobile and automotive industries, Ellis says the technology revolution is coming at all levels, across all business sectors—and quickly. As proof, he says it took 60 years for the telephone to be widely adopted in the U.S.; it took only 10 months for the iPad.

Ellis references a patent he believes will transform the relationship between vehicles and data: the patent Google was awarded in 2016 to push content to the car in exchange for information about the car.

“Software companies are driving this, not the original equipment manufacturers,” he says. “The best example is Tesla, which founder Elon Musk says builds software and then wraps it with a car. The construct of a software-first company is so strong that if you fail to understand it, you’ll fail to succeed.”

Ed Parsons shared similar perspectives during his keynote address.  As Google’s geospatial technologist, or as he refers to himself, geographer in residence, he says there are at least five megatrends driving technology:

  • The world is becoming more urban, not suburban. People and humanity will be more condensed.
  • Digital natives have formed a new type of consumer.
  • Big data is still in its early days, but platforms are providing a massive difference in the shape of business. We can compute more data, faster.
  • Disintermediation means if you don’t add value to the process, you will be removed.
  • Information has to be accessible.

Taking those megatrends and building new technologies, Parsons says, requires components or building blocks, such as remote sensing. Precise positioning is making significant advances, particularly in smartphones, he adds.

Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie says there are technologies readily accessible to growers that are easy and profitable to adopt. One of those is row clutch shutoffs.

“This is something even small-scale farmers can benefit from financially,” Ferrie says. “In some cases it could help them the most because they tend to have smaller, more irregular-shaped fields to deal with.”

When it comes to adopting precision ag, Ferrie says keep these two tips in mind:

Read the manual. “Half of the things we make service calls on with our customers, we find the answers are in the manual,” he says.

Find out if the technology provider offers adequate support—over the phone and in person. Before you buy a product or service, call the company’s customer service line. Track their responsiveness and wait times.

“Unless you’re a total geek, you need support,” Ferrie says.

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