Five High-Tech Farming Trends

Technology advancements will change agriculture as we know it. ( freeimages.com )

"What one generation sees as a luxury, the next sees as a necessity," said Anthony Crosland, British Labor Party politician and author, in his most cited sentence. History has shown this to be true: One need not look further than cell phones, televisions, hand-held devices and computers, for starters. Then look at how living conditions and diets have changed, as societies have become more affluent.

Dr. Lowell Catlett, a popular speaker and retired regents professor and dean emeritus from New Mexico State University, says achieving significant increases in meat production will require “continued applications of new and emerging technologies.

“Many of the technologies are based on ‘hard’ science in the form of sensors, robotics and genetics, but some are ‘soft’ in the area of human-animal bonds and health,” Catlett says.

Here are five trends he feels bear watching.

1.  Sensors
The term, “there’s an app for that” can be applied to almost anything. In fact, Catlett says, replacing the current camera lens with a molecular lens allows for electrical impulses that can change the focus 60 times per second, and this is being developed for instant blood tests, physical heart health monitoring and metabolic rates.

“Infrared lasers can provide even more surface details and this whole field will revolutionize animal health,” he says. “And microprocessors that cost about $1000 can currently complete DNA profiles in less than two hours. This changes everything about both human and animal health.”

Catlett says his Galaxy phone is 32 million times more powerful than the computer that took people to the moon (“And I still can’t turn it on half the time,” he quips).

Facial recognition technology is becoming an aid for determining animal health, he says, pointing out that two large firms, Cargill and Zoetis, are working on the technology for animal health. Google is doing likewise for human health.

2.  Robotics and Drones
Catlett says great strides have been made with robotics in recent years. They are more sensitive and dexterous in providing assistance in animal care and monitoring.

“Robotic milkers and animal handling robots are the two fastest growing areas of robots in agriculture,” he says. “Commercial small-scale drones are available for less than $1000 and can carry up to 5-pound payloads for up to six miles.”

“Computer capacity, for all intents and purposes, is infinite. We’re literally blowing the doors off of robotics. Their speed and capacity is infinite,” Catlett says. “Autonomous vehicles are moving rapidly toward commercial reality as well. I’m not trying to say you’ll be replaced by computers, but you’ll be augmented by this technology.”

3.  3-D Printing
“Perhaps no new technology offers a greater upending of manufacturing worldwide than the ability to ‘print’ new products,” Catlett says. Bio-printing of human livers and kidneys is possible and even more importantly, new vaccines and medicines have been partially printed, using “the building blocks of biology.”

4.  Human-Animal Bonds
Those in animal agriculture need to watch this area closely. Catlett says new medical research shows “how both humans and animals change physically when exposed to each other, known collectively as ‘bonding chemicals,’ and this will be another major contribution to new designs for intensive animal production facilities.”

5.  Big Data/Cloud
Catlett believes being able to assemble large amounts of data from seemingly unrelated areas will “forever change human and animal health when a small outbreak of a disease is known and within hours a vaccine is ‘printed’ and the outbreak controlled.” He feels this emerging technology offers great promise in animal and human welfare.

Get Ready
“As the speed and capacity of computers continues to increase, the ability to gather and use information on all aspects of production agriculture will explode,” Catlett says. “The value of knowing when, where, how and all aspects of the life of either a crop or an animal will exceed the actual value of the product itself. The information revolution ties global and local producers and consumers together in ways not possible just a decade ago.

“Get ready for a data revolution – the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” he says.

 
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