The Future Is Now In Agricultural Technologies

Jim Carroll

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.” 

Genomics Breaks New Ground

Moore’s Law applies to genetic science as well; only it is faster with the price of sequencing genes being cut in half every few months. “The cost of the technology to first sequence a human genome was around $3 billion,” says Carroll. “Today, it’s less than a thousand bucks. The same cost curve holds true for agriculture. There’s an exponential increase in processing speed of these machines and a collapse in their cost, which means that we’ll witness an acceleration in the science of agricultural genomics.”
But, will the public fully accept genetically engineered crops? “In the not too distant future, more and more environmentalists will start looking at genetically engineered crops with a changing attitude,” says Uldrich. “They will begin to realize the sustainability of genetically engineered crops when they see their tremendous benefits.”

Wait, There’s More

Another trend already under way is the establishment of farms in the heart of cities. The popularity of “buy local” and retailers’ desire to shorten the distance of supply chains, will drive urban farming forward.
“The world’s first vertical farms just went up in Sweden and Singapore,” says Uldrich. “These are basically skyscrapers that are using sophisticated hydroponics and advanced lighting to produce crops in urban centers.”
What happens when a part breaks on your tractor? Why not print out a new one? As unbelievable as this sounds, Uldrich says 3-D printing technology has the potential for major impacts in agriculture. The technology involves the printing out of physical three dimensional objects.
“General Electric has stated a goal that by 2015 or 2016, it will have technology that will enable the printing out of aircraft engine parts,” says Uldrich. “If it is possible to print out aircraft parts, why not tractor parts or other things needed on the farm.”

Ready, Set, Done

To folks older than 40, the technology already available can seem baffling. Carroll notes that the onslaught of new technology will only increase in speed and capability. For that reason, he says, “The future belongs to the fast. A lot of will happen with the 25-year-old straight out of agricultural college arriving back at the family farm with an iPad in their hand and an iPhone on their hip. “This younger generation is voracious when it comes to the use of technology. This trend will see a rapid acceleration of the adoption of many of the technology ideas. They’ll be very aggressive with innovation because it’s in their genes to explore new tech.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Citrus Stories
Florida citrus packinghouse
CitrusLatest Florida Orange Crop Outlook Puts Brakes On Downward Roll — For Now
April 9, 2015
Updated numbers from USDA reveal count continuing to hover just above the 100 million box mark. Read More
CitrusForecasters Predict Historically Weak Atlantic Hurricane Season
April 9, 2015
Extended range outlook cites El Niño as culprit in what could be one of the least active seasons in recent memory. Read More
One World Challenge Wall
CitrusToday’s Youth Set To Sustain The World [Opinion]
April 9, 2015
A select group of University of Florida students are thinking of innovative ways to meet the challenges of supporting 9+ billion people on Earth by 2050. Read More
Summer Foley, Miss Florida Citrus 2015
Citrus6 Questions With Miss Florida Citrus 2015
April 7, 2015
Pageant's much-anticipated comeback brings with it a breath of fresh air. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusNational Farmers Union Supports Mandatory GMO Labeling
April 3, 2015
Organization calls on Congress for unified standards to bridge several pending labeling proposals. Read More
CitrusRainfall Relief Welcomed Across South Florida
April 3, 2015
Below-average precipitation for the region during March helps lower high water levels from what has been a rather wet Dry Season. Read More
CitrusEPA Says It Is Unlikely To Approve New Neonicotinoid Outdoor Uses
April 3, 2015
The agency is waiting until new bee data has been submitted and pollinator risk assessments are complete. Read More
The Latest
Natalie Parkell and Kevin Osburn of Vertical Horizon Farms
CitrusSmall Family Farms Can Survive [Opinion]
April 17, 2015
It is reassuring amid the corporate climate the agriculture industry has experienced in more recent times that there is still room for the little guy, and — more importantly — a need. Read More
Golden Rice
CitrusMore Social Commentators Changing Their Views On GMO Cr…
April 15, 2015
Could public opinion be swayed by evolving narration on genetic modification? Read More
CitrusFlorida Agriculture Rings Up Record $4.2 Billion In Int…
April 13, 2015
Accomplishment represents third year in a row that Sunshine State exports have topped the $4 billion mark. Read More
Florida citrus packinghouse
CitrusLatest Florida Orange Crop Outlook Puts Brakes On Downw…
April 9, 2015
Updated numbers from USDA reveal count continuing to hover just above the 100 million box mark. Read More
CitrusForecasters Predict Historically Weak Atlantic Hurrican…
April 9, 2015
Extended range outlook cites El Niño as culprit in what could be one of the least active seasons in recent memory. Read More
One World Challenge Wall
CitrusToday’s Youth Set To Sustain The World [Opinion]
April 9, 2015
A select group of University of Florida students are thinking of innovative ways to meet the challenges of supporting 9+ billion people on Earth by 2050. Read More
Summer Foley, Miss Florida Citrus 2015
Citrus6 Questions With Miss Florida Citrus 2015
April 7, 2015
Pageant's much-anticipated comeback brings with it a breath of fresh air. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusNational Farmers Union Supports Mandatory GMO Labeling
April 3, 2015
Organization calls on Congress for unified standards to bridge several pending labeling proposals. Read More
CitrusRainfall Relief Welcomed Across South Florida
April 3, 2015
Below-average precipitation for the region during March helps lower high water levels from what has been a rather wet Dry Season. Read More
CitrusEPA Says It Is Unlikely To Approve New Neonicotinoid Ou…
April 3, 2015
The agency is waiting until new bee data has been submitted and pollinator risk assessments are complete. Read More
FFVA Emerging Leaders Class 4 visits Tallahassee
CitrusMarch On Tallahassee A Fruitful Exercise For Florida…
April 2, 2015
Road trip to the state capital beneficial for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association's board of directors and Class 4 of its Emerging Leader Development Program. Read More
CitrusCalifornia Snowpack Is Virtually Gone
April 2, 2015
With the lowest water content since 1950, the governor orders first-ever mandatory water reductions in cities and towns, and growers face tighter regulations. Read More
CitrusMake Every Day Ag Day
March 31, 2015
Another National Ag Day came and went on March 18. Did you do anything to promote it this year? Even Read More
Laboratory beakers
CitrusGrowing Demand For Magnesium Nitrate Spurs TradeMark Ni…
March 30, 2015
Via enhancements made to its manufacturing plant, Florida company is able to provide more of its product to various fertilizer distributors and retailers throughout the country. Read More
CitrusProposed Farm Bill Provision To Limit Payments To Non-F…
March 25, 2015
USDA has proposed a new rule which would limit payment to those who are only actively engaged in farming. Read More
Summer Foley gets crowned Miss Florida Citrus 2015 by 2004 winner Nikki Upthegrove Matthews and reigning Miss Florida Vicotria Cowen
CitrusMeet The New Miss Florida Citrus
March 24, 2015
Pageant marks comeback of longstanding industry tradition. Read More
CitrusFarm Bureau Says WOTUS Rule Would Ignore Exemptions
March 24, 2015
Common farming practices may be vulnerable to Clean Water Act enforcement under the rule. Read More
CitrusCalifornia Unveils $1 Billion Drought Package
March 23, 2015
Governor, legislative leaders, announce $1 billion emergency drought legislation. Read More