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Welcome to ag tech odyssey 2017

Thinkstock agriculture-technology-drones-0109H-3620a
MORE THAN A DEER SPOTTER: Drones may soon accurately see and predict emerging crop conditions — and perhaps apply prescriptive treatments in the future.
Four tech evolutions will quicken the pace of change in agriculture during 2017.

You and I sense that technology is spinning at an accelerating pace with equally proliferating implications. And ag tech is stuck tight to that spinner.

By the time many farmers hit 60 years old, they’re at least starting to get dizzy enough to want to get off that spinner. And it’s probably a good idea for younger generations to help them climb off. I tackled that task from a farm transitions perspective in a previous column.

We all need to be looking ahead. And you’ll find many clues to farming’s future at the upcoming New York Farm Show, Feb. 23- 25, on the state fairgrounds in Syracuse.

Now isn’t too early to start planning your trip. Make it a two-day venture to have more family fun and less stress. Check out the list of Syracuse-area hotels that’ll cut you a “farm show” discount.

What else is ‘coming down’
Here’s a peek at four tech changes now arriving, according to my crystal ball:

• Moldboard plows join wooden pencils. If you still have a moldboard plow, you might park it in your antique collection along with that dust-covered, flat-tired tractor. The shift to conservation-tillage systems and cover cropping is ending its era.

If you can brush the rust off those plow shares, it might look good enough to pull in a town parade. Just be prepared to explain that you’ve replaced it with far better, environmentally-friendly tools and technologies.

• Rise of the robots. Robotic technology is just beginning to proliferate. In 2016, we saw the first wave of autonomous (robotic) tractors. Case IH, New Holland, even Deere are technologically miles ahead of Uber and Tesla in terms of having reliable machine systems ready to roll.

Automation is just beginning to take over variable-rate machine operations for planting, nutrient/manure and pesticide applications. These apps are increasingly proving their value and all-important return on investment. The same is true of the proliferating robotic dairy technologies being adopted at an accelerating pace.

Robotic technology’s biggest hurdle, however, may still be a human one. It works only as well as the operator’s skill and comfort level. “Nothing new,” you say?

That’s where the next-gen is carving a niche for the future. A few years ago, one of our Master Farmers was outraged that his son bought a planter “with all the bells and whistles.” It didn’t take long for dad to change his mind though — after seeing that machine’s ROI.

• Drones onward and upward. Just so older folks make no mistake, drones are not just pollinator bees or military weapons. They’re winged aerial workhorses that are just beginning to “pop harness” to do amazing things on the farm. Within the next two years, you’ll see aerial field diagnostics meld with scouting technologies to automatically and accurately predict when insects or diseases hit treatment thresholds.

Once that’s perfected, precision spot treatments via next-gen drones will be next. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to even use night vision and dive-bomb bears and deer before they destroy crops.

• Vertical farming on the rise. This merger of hydroponic and growing light technologies will revolutionize fresh-food crop production. Growth of these “farms” will explode in the next decade.

Major entrepreneurial players in the Northeast and on the West Coast are already building systems to raise fresh organic fruits and leafy vegetables inside old warehouses and on top of big-box retail centers. Vertical farms hold opportunities for skilled food producers turned entrepreneurs. It’s an open gate for college graduates steeped in state-of-technology training.

Bite-sized morsel
Envisioning the possible is the first step to making it probable.

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