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Technology, human interaction build agriculture’s future

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It’s been 50 years since the animated TV sitcom The Jetsons introduced the world to future technology through flying cars without roads, and the robot maid Rosie and her infamous attitude.

Today, the flying car which folded into a briefcase remains a dream; still grounded without a flight plan. Yet robots are instrumental on new car assembly lines and show promise in production agriculture applications.

It’s amazing how technology has improved the world, including production agriculture, over the last decade or so. Technology allows growers to stop and start irrigation systems with a simple phone call. Smart phones, other hand-held gadgets, and laptop computers allow producers to better manage the farm, use fewer inputs to produce higher-yielding crops, while also preserving the environment.

Agriculture has latched on quickly to the Internet; a world-wide commercial web of global information only about 20 years old.

The discussion of technology in agriculture was front and center during the recent round of fall, winter, and spring meetings held by farm associations.

At the Western Growers’ annual meeting, rocket scientist Charles Elachi discussed how technology developed for space travel can now help citrus producers detect unique emissions from citrus trees which have contracted the dreaded Huanglongbing disease (citrus greening). HLB is the top threat to the global citrus industry.

NASA technology also allows producers to determine actual water resources above and below the ground to make better informed irrigation decisions.

During the 2012 Arizona Pecan Growers Association annual meeting, California pecan grower Brian Blain discussed how technological gains in tree hedging and thinning, plus advancements in irrigation, literally helped save the California pecan industry from almost certain extinction.

The Almond Industry Conference included a plethora of technology-based developments. Before planting a new field in almond trees or re-planting an existing orchard, University of California Extension farm advisor David Doll suggested that growers utilize online aerial field images from Google Earth and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to determine a field’s weaknesses, the causes, and needed solutions before planting or replanting trees.

During cotton conferences in recent years, speakers have discussed how sterile insect technology has ushered the pink bollworm closer to the eradication door. The insect was once the Western cotton industry’s worst profit-robbing pest.

There are volumes of examples of how the incorporation of technology has improved agriculture and boosted producers’ bottom lines.

With the increasing use of cell phones, GPS units, and laptops in peoples’ hands today, one may ask whether our society will eventually forego human communication in favor of technology-only communication. In other words, will people continue to talk to others?

Agriculture has always embraced human interaction and this is unlikely to change. Producers understand the benefits of chats at the local coffee shop, stopping on the side of the road to talk with a neighbor, or visiting with fellow producers at the local elevator, gin, or fertilizer dealer.

Seasonal meetings are a great opportunity for producers to visit one-on-one and discuss how technology is beefing up their operations. Perhaps our world with cell phones glued to the ears and fingers could learn a lesson from agriculture and become a better place by just ... talking.

Let’s hope The Jetsons never takes root ... except for the flying cars.

Flying tractors, anyone?

cblake@farmpress.com

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