Last week, Apple introduced the iPhone 5, billing it as one of the greatest innovations of our time. The newest version of Apple’s iconic mobile technology serves as further proof of our nation’s obsession with technology and innovation. Technology is embraced for the advancements it has brought to our lives – whether it is cars, entertainment, medicine or footwear – everything except for food production.
When it comes to food production, it seems we want to maintain the romantic ideal of a pastoral agricultural industry, slow moving, simple. Technology is perceived with negative connotations when it comes to farming, a thought which is even more interesting when you consider our top athletes are fueled with “performance nutrition” and products with improved nutritional profiles, such as calcium-fortified orange juice and cereal.
Agricultural technology has allowed farming to become more efficient and precise. Using precision farming techniques, including soil sampling and GPS monitoring, farmers are able to gage the productive capacity of each plot of land and then using this data, plant the appropriate number of plants and provide the appropriate nutrient mix to maximize production. And yes, iPhone users, there is an app for that. Today’s farmers use complex computer systems in their offices, tractors, trucks and phones, to track and record planting, harvest and even marketing trends. Chances are when you see a farmer, regardless of the location, you’re seeing a farmer hard at work.
Technology in agriculture is also allowing farming to be more sustainable, meaning growers are using tools, such as conservation tillage practices leading to less soil erosion and fewer crop chemicals, a critical component in a time of increasing demands on our natural resources. Technological advancements in seed production have allowed advancements in yield and plant quality.
Production agriculture is business, and it is a tough one. In addition to the actual physical demands of the occupation, it requires a great deal of capital and strong business acumen. Today’s successful farmers are technologically savvy business owners.
So, is technology a bad thing for agriculture? Consider this. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average bushel an acre of corn produced in 1950 was 38.2. In 2011, it was 147.2 bushels an acre. This is important when you consider world population has increased over the same span from 2.5 billion to 7 billion, and while this is a substantial increase in humans to feed, as nations develop it translates into increased protein demand as well.
Food for thought, would you be willing today to still be using the first cell phone you got in 1996? Should we prevent farmers’ access to the technologies that are allowing them to be more productive and efficient?