Farming may never be the same. Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer might not even exist on farms of the future – farms empowered by drones, high-tech sensors, and computer models, said David Hunt during the Crop Science session at Alltech’s 30th Annual Symposium. Hunt is the managing director of Comex McKinnon, an agricultural supply chain management company, and is on the advisory board of Singularity University, a Silicon Valley-based university dedicated to educating people on advancing technologies and their impact. This new revolution is right around the corner, he noted, one that could even rival the Green Revolution that saved millions from starvation.
“Rather than machines disempowering farmers, I believe machines will empower farmers,” Hunt said. “It’s the beginning of a new type of farmer.”
Inputs could be greatly reduced, as drones could recycle insects into fertilizer and animal feed, as well as recycle weeds into fertilizer to replace herbicides.
But farmers will have to be bold, and strive to become technological disruptors of current agricultural processes, before someone else disrupts the system for them, Hunt said. He cited the digital photography revolution, and how Kodak underestimated the powerful future of digital. It was actually a technology the company itself developed but it eventually “blew up” their entire business model when they instead opted to continuing focusing on film instead of digital for fear of cannibalizing sales.
While a new robot seems to pop up every day, a wealth of data is still needed to create the sophisticated autonomous and versatile robots needed for future farming, Hunt noted. Advanced air, soil and crop sensors could gather this information and analyze it – information that is not yet available. Current measures are crude at best, and simply “point in time” measures.
Technology could greatly reduce the risk of experimentation in agriculture that prevents breakthroughs, since farmers cannot afford to gamble on a crop that may take nine months to come to fruition, Hunt said. But if the right data is collected through sensors, agricultural innovations could simply be tested virtually – using computer models, rather than actual crops. The risk is thus gone, and disruptive technologies can be free to occur. Farmers must share their knowledge with one another as these technologies and be “hive-minded” to experience a true explosion of innovation.
“We could have answers immediately, not nine months after we try the new process,” Hunt said. “I’m fully expecting to see that explosion of innovation in agriculture soon...Do you want to be the disruptor, or do you want to be disrupted?”