At its very heart, farming is filled with uncertainty. Just ask any farmer here in Minnesota who has ever wrapped up harvest amid a list of nearly endless variables, from trade to prices to weather and beyond. But there’s one important element farmers can rely on no matter what is thrown at them: Tech.
The way American farmers use technology sets an example for the whole world. You might have heard about how self-guided tractors and precise field testing have helped them grow more. To do more with less. And they have. Minnesota farmers have nearly doubled yields of some crops from the 1980s to today thanks in large part to the use of agricultural technology, or “ag tech.”
As Chief Technology Officer for Land O’Lakes, Inc., I see every day how farmers are using ag tech to improve their businesses. But better yet, I have a front-row seat to what’s around the corner. And it’s pretty incredible.
Turns out, the next generation of ag tech is built on technology Minnesotans use every day in our living rooms.
Many of us use voice-controlled personal assistants to play songs and radio stations at home. Agronomists, or crop doctors, at WinField United, our business that focuses heavily on ag tech, are researching how that same technology could help farmers manage their fields. Rather than asking a home assistant to play Springsteen, a farmer could ask which product they should use to target pests -- based on their type and what kind of crop they’re invading. This kind of tech could greatly boost efficiency and help farmers sift through a huge amount of complex information.
Other experts are looking into how we can help farmers get a better view of their fields -- for example, self-flying drones and real-time satellite images -- all while using sophisticated computer models to decipher the daunting amounts of information gathered.
And while virtual reality tends to be associated with video games, expert teams are developing augmented reality technology that, when paired with smart glasses, could display individual plants for an agronomist miles away. As the technology takes off, it could help farmers tackle problems early and effectively, increasing their crop output.
This kind of tech helps farmers produce more, but ag tech takes it one step further by helping them safeguard the air, land and water as well -- and show us all that they’ve achieved.
Consider the work happening at Truterra, our business focused on farmer-led sustainability. Their Truterra Insights Engine helps farmers visualize sustainable practices that are best for every acre they farm.
And what’s more, this technology helps farmers “show their work,” with analytics dashboards that track the sustainability results they achieve. This matters for anyone who cares about where their food comes from and how it was produced. (So pretty much everyone!)
From where I sit, every Minnesotan should expect to hear more about advances in ag tech for years to come. From voice recognition to virtual reality, Minnesota is leading the way – and we’re going to help farmers around the world become more productive and more sustainable as a result.
Teddy Bekele is Chief Technology Officer at Land O’Lakes, Inc., a farmer-owned cooperative with more than 3,900 members in dairy, crop production and agricultural retail.