Why It’s Time to Ask the Tough Questions of Ag Technology

Why It’s Time to Ask the Tough Questions of Ag Technology

Like a lot of you, I don’t know where I’d turn if it wasn’t for the outstanding men and women who work in Extension at our Land Grant Universities. It can be tough to get answers to thorny questions about fruit growing. More to the point, it can be tough to get answers to your specific problems.

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That’s part of the beauty of Extension. You don’t have to sift through scads of information that might have no bearing on your problem. A “solution” in search of a problem? That, you don’t need.
But that’s exactly what too many growers get. I’ve heard many complaints about all the start-up companies with whiz-bang tech that sounds fantastic, but when you get right down to it, doesn’t provide solutions to your very real problems.

After years of hearing these complaints, I thought they might diminish as growers grew increasingly sophisticated and more comfortable with new technology, and the tech companies would start getting a clue. I think the former has happened, but not the latter.

I know a woman who works very hard to help fruit growers work with new technology because she feels — as I do — that unless growers modernize and shed the huge numbers of currently necessary workers, they’re going to be in serious trouble in the not-so-distant future.

She says some of the tech start-ups have worked hard to understand the fruit business. They actually give credence to the old-fashioned notion that the customer — you, the grower — is always right. But they are the exception.

In fact, she says the start-ups who want to jump into the fruit business seem to be getting worse. They’re providing solutions in search of problems. This has been a continuing challenge, one that frustrates tech companies who do intently listen to growers almost as much as the growers themselves.

Tech companies who don’t bother to listen to growers — perhaps guided by some tendency to believe they already know it all — generally over-promise and under-deliver, leading to increasing grower fatigue with technology.

Interestingly enough, just a few days after I spoke with this exasperated farm adviser, I was talking to a drone developer and shared her concerns. To my surprise, he agreed with her. In the case of drones, he didn’t find it all that surprising.

It’s because drone technology comes from the military, he said. And in the military, with their tremendous R&D budgets, there’s much more of a feeling of “If you build it, they will come,” than is found in the private sector. Unfortunately, a lot of developers of drones and their potential applications in agriculture have carried that mentality with them and expect growers to adapt the technology to their needs.

That’s baloney. The way it’s supposed to work in this great country is the one who pays gets to call the shots. I learned that quickly as a teen entering the workforce from my first boss, who would say each day at lunchtime: “I buy, you fly.”

Don’t forget: You’re the customer, and you’re right. Technology is just a means to an end, a tool, and it’s not a useful tool if it’s not helping to provide answers to your problems. Demand solutions, and don’t be satisfied with less.

Speaking of technology and solutions, my company, Meister Media Worldwide, will once again welcome fruit, nut, vegetable, and greenhouse growers to Las Vegas, NV, Nov. 13-14 for Growing

Innovations (GrowingInnovations.com). Now in its second year, this unique conference isn’t just about technology, though of course, that’s a key element. You’ll hear practical information from other growers you can apply to your farm.

See you in the desert!