High Tech

The Changing Face of American Agriculture: Part 3

Many involved in agriculture, commercial or entrepreneurial, feel that technology will shape the future.

The Internet continues to evolve into the driving force in agriculture. Cutting-edge agripreneurs rely on the Internet to market their produce, but even commodity markets are coming to accept this technology as the norm. Buying beef cattle through video auctions streamed online is a common practice nowadays.

Likewise, QR codes for smartphone users will increase in prevalence. Large food manufacturers hope to use these codes to set the minds of consumers at ease about the way their food is grown. Whether or not the QR code will become the primary method of tracking the progress of food from farm to table remains up in the air, however, since the tool has not gained universal acceptance among consumers.

Software will only increase in its capabilities to monitor all aspects of farming. Crop growers may use tracking software to follow the movements of their entire farm fleet. Pork growers suggest that artificial intelligence will be used to forestall production problems of all sorts, including disease outbreaks. Meanwhile, agripreneurs already use logistics software to enhance their competitive edge.

Massive amounts of data are collected in modern agriculture. As researchers and inventors find new ways to quantify conditions in the field, companies will process the data into a variety of charts, graphs, maps, and documents designed to help producers make smart decisions throughout the growing season. Because this work will be so resource-intensive, every farmer’s data will likely end up on the cloud.

Precision planting promises to be a continued focus in commodity farming. Every aspect of the planting process will be computerized to enhance the yield of each individual row in the field. The ability of planters to place seeds at the desired depth and spacing will continue to improve over the next few years. And as the planter moves through the field, it will be collecting a wealth of data that will be processed into decision-making tools to help the farmer push his yields ever higher.

Biotechnology still looks to have a major place in creating the food supply of the future. Pork producers predict that feed crops will be genetically engineered to meet the specific needs of specific animals. Cloning of livestock may become widespread to produce the uniform animals that commodity markets demand. Gene editing may reduce the use of chemical drugs for pest and parasite control. Crops of all types will continue to be engineered for increased yields. However, while biotechnology will continue to bring commodities closer and closer to conventional market specifications, it will increasingly place commercial agriculture at odds with consumers.

Meanwhile, continuing advancements in LED lighting are making growing food indoors possible. LED lights are highly efficient, but they can also be tuned to specific wavelengths to promote better plant growth.

Research and Development

The Changing Face of American Agriculture

Sustainable farming practices are increasingly getting a share of the research money.

Major cities across the country, and even the world, are turning to intensive farming techniques to grow quality foods efficiently. Hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, and indoor gardening are offering ways to grow more in less space. Hoop houses and tunnels are currently hot topics in agricultural research due to their potential to make local food available year-round, even sparking an interest in states that are typically slow to accept alternative farming practices.

Crop scientists will continue to breed new plant varieties. Whereas in the past they have focused on breeding plants for resistance to insects and disease, the future may see them breeding plants that can cope with nonliving threats, such as drought and extreme heat.

Since much of modern conventional agriculture is geared toward growing ethanol, any breakthroughs in biofuel research will be extremely significant. Current research is examining the use of switchgrass as fuel, raising the possibility of converting countless acres of farmland back to grassland. Another energy alternative is that of harvesting crops twice—once for the grain and a second time for stubble to be used as biofuel.

And, one of these days, the man driving the tractor may be a thing of the past, according to grain research experts. He may be replaced with a fleet of fully automated precision farm vehicles. This equipment will be able to navigate using satellites and will even identify and spray weeds with minimal human interference. Currently, the major challenge is designing machinery that can recognize and avoid hitting people, animals, and other objects in the field.

Helpful Resource

How Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law Affects You
Includes information on the pros and cons of various food labeling methods, as well as public sentiment on biotechnology.