Increasing Food Production with Technology Worldwide – and Locally
By Erika Kosina, Nevada County Tech Connection
California, which boasts more than its fair share of both techies and farmers, hosts several AgTech conferences, some of which attract more than 600 attendees. And these AgTech pioneers are making a difference.
Technology has allowed the inudustry to increase food production by leaps and bounds ever since our ancient ancestors graduated from the digging stick to the hoe. On today’s farm, smart phones and laptops are as common as combines and tractors. The 4th industrial revolution and the advent of the Internet of Things where the internet is connecting devices and things at an unprecedented rate is pushing agricultural technology even further.
Technology Helps Farmers Increase Efficiency
The average size of an American farm is now 434 acres, according to a 2012 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) census. Farmers simply can’t monitor each plant on a farm of that size. Electronic sensors can gather information that allows farmers to monitor their fields from afar. Analyzing the data from these sensors gives farmers information about the plants, and allows them to make better decisions. According to the USDA, “Farmers no longer have to apply water, fertilizers, and pesticides uniformly across entire fields. Instead, they can use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas, or even treat individual plants differently.” It’s a much more efficient way to grow large amounts of food.
Drones are another way for farmers to monitor their crops more efficiently. They fly over fields and gathering visual information better than an actual person could. “At the end of the day, drones can detect things the naked eye can’t like pests, disease, weeds, and fertility,” says Melissa Jun Rowley in her article “Farm Tech Revolution.” “If farmers play their cards right, they can use this information to cut costs and save time and resources—a couple of key reasons technology was invented.”
Bringing Farmers and Developers Together
Using technology to increase food production has its challenges. Sensors require internet connectivity to relay information, which is not widely available in rural areas. And farmers generally don’t get into farming because they love technology. Steve Davis is the CEO of Intelligent Wireless Networks, a company that provides rural WiFi networks as well as applications and software to support precision farming. He talks to a lot of farmers about how technology can help their business. “Technology has not been a part of farmers’ lives much,” said Davis. “They require some teaching and hand holding as they adopt these technologies. They are after all, farmers. They know soils and fertilizers. Bugs and crop disease. Water and nutrient content criteria to grow their products. How many Silicon Valley tech CEO’s grow their own food? How many could?”
A middle man like Davis is often needed to bring farmers and technology together. Agricultural Technology conferences can act as that middle man, providing opportunities for techies to pitch farmers and investors with their ideas for making farming more efficient.
Increasing Local Food Production
Nevada County is hosting our own AgTech Micro Conference on February 9, with support from the Economic Resource Council and Nevada County Tech Connection. The conference is happening in conjunction with Sierra Harvest’s Sustainable Food and Farm Conference, which presents world-renowned experts on innovative sustainable farming trends along with workshops and farm tours. Sierra Harvest is working to increase the number of young farmers in Nevada County – the average age of farmers in our county is 58 years old, and over 98% of those farmers do not have a plan to pass on their farm. Sierra Harvest has trained 30 farmers who are under 30, and placed many of them on local farmland. Since millennials are more comfortable with technology than any other generation, these younger farmers may be more open to incorporating technology into their farming methods.
Sierra Harvest hopes to increase local food production from 2% to 25% over the next ten years. Technology has a role to play in that increase, and the AgTech Micro Conference will connect AgTech developers with funders and local farmers to get the conversation started in our community. For more information or to register for the conference, visit http://nctechconnection.org/agtech18/.