Agriculture Often Requires A Different Perspective

Each winter I make it a point to attend at least one event that I have never attended before. Usually I will pick an event that’s pretty well established so it’s a relatively low risk experience. But this year I stepped out a bit, attending an inaugural meeting in a city to which I had never visited.

The meeting was the Precision Agriculture Summit, held in Jamestown, ND last month. It was hosted by the North Dakota Farmers Union and the Red River Valley Research Corridor, and was held at the Farmers Union’s recently built office and meeting complex, frankly one of the nicest small town meeting halls I’ve seen.

If the attendance, which filled the room to capacity on opening day, was any indication, there’s a lot of pent up desire for information about precision agriculture technology — or at the very least, a lot of farmers thinking about it. I rarely get to be a witness to such events, and it was inspiring to see it happen and to talk to so many terrific people. And I have to give a shout out to Doug the cab driver, who transported me six different times between the hotel, the hall and the airport. I also learned from him a number of ways to insult the opposing German and Scandanavian populations in Jamestown, but you’ll have to go there yourself if you want to hear those jokes. Wish I could have a personal driver in every city.

There were a number of good speakers, but I was most excited to get an opportunity to hear the renowned futurist and economist Lowell Catlet. A lot of the people in the room had experienced a Catlet session over the years, but for whatever reason I had never had that opportunity until this moment.

I was not disappointed. As Catlet likes to say for emphasis with each point made, I “had my doors blown off” multiple times with some of the technologies and concepts he discussed over the course of his 61-minute brain dump. One could only hope to have 10% of the speaking charisma he possesses.

The overarching theme fit really well with CropLife magazine’s issue focus last month, “Making Change in Good Times.” Catlet focused on the search for good ideas and the “next big thing,” or the “Theory of the Long Nose.”
Contrary to what your mom taught you, Catlet advocates poking one’s nose into other industries and businesses to look for existing innovation that could be applied to agriculture.

Speaking to a crowd already primed to talk technology, Catlet spoke at length about the potential of wireless communication, portable technology and cloud computing to make outcomes such as food traceability more widely possible.

He then took it one step further, suggesting that consumers would be able to scan food at the grocery store and not only get information about what is in it and where it came from, but also match its contents to nutritional needs or limitations. Imagine your smartphone saying, “Eh, you don’t need to be eating that, Charlie.” Given the power that smartphone applications deliver to users today, it’s not that big a leap to believe that could be on the horizon.

Before the first rig hits the field this spring, I encourage you to go out and find something to read or attend that stretches your mental boundaries. We all need to get out of our element for a while, and the ideas you find might surprise you.

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