As farmers, we are exposed to a multitude of choices in agricultural technology.
And today, college students in Canada can earn an agricultural technology degree or diploma. What an opportunity for young men and women who want to grow food!
I recently participated in the Global Agriculture Technology Summit on the panel for Women in Ag Tech. In preparation, I considered how we as farmers have adopted technology in the past 40 years, which is the amount of time that I spent in the beef industry.
To put it simply — we’ve come a long way.
When I first started selling fed cattle, the beef was sold as sides and transported by rail to Montreal for breaking and distribution. Today, the entire carcass is cut and shelf ready for retail from the point of slaughter.
It took more than just a few tweaks to make that happen.
Packing plants had to implement systems that include pneumatics, robotics, sensors along with full digital measurement of performance, environment, accuracy, quality and inventory leading to precision in beef slaughter, value add and distribution. Traceability gives the beef industry traction to assure buyers and consumers of the legitimacy of product.
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On the farm we went from pen and paper to software programs and technology that can digitally measure every event in the calf’s life from birth to plate. Programs can now tell us what an animal is worth based on its history, genomics and health profile. Intake and behaviour can be monitored and measured and based on that information — the projected time of sale can be predetermined. These auditable platforms have allowed for specialized initiatives such as sales into consumer-specific markets.
We also experienced the revolution of grazing that transformed pastures from continuous to rotational through to regenerative systems that focus not only on the plant, but also the soil. We implemented the use of solar systems for water, electric fences for containment, and HF-RFID and satellite identification systems. Today, in many operations, each piece of equipment, such as the chute, is a reader or sensor feeding into the main database.
Being a First World country, farmers and ranchers in Canada can enjoy the full implementation of technology. Most places have internet, the power is usually on and we don’t have an issue with refrigeration.
It is important to remember however, that if we take a look through a global lens, ag tech means different things to other farmers. They may be limited by culture, region, class, caste, gender, income or industry.
For example, a farmer in rural Asia will have to deal with the lack of refrigeration and unreliable transportation systems. Despite having a cellphone and market data, the infrastructure is simply not there to support their needs. Milk, eggs, meat and poultry sit in the sun and while that is the cultural norm, it is hard to implement technological advances in production when the final product is victim to something as simple as a lack of refrigeration.
In other First World countries, industries compete and excel in the ag tech space.
While the global beef industry still struggles to identify each cut to the end-user, the kiwi sector in New Zealand uses an electronic system from start to shelf which sorts, sells and traces back to the field.
It is important as we go into the advancement of agricultural technology that we also fully appreciate that our use of it may not be transferable, be that in production or processing. It is difficult to ‘keep the lights on’ in a processing plant in a region where power failures are the norm.
As leaders in ag tech, we are compelled to take a global view and to be grounded enough to ask what other farmers need. Yes, we can lead from here and be outstanding in our field, but the next farmer’s field will differ and we must ask ourselves how what we do will be of benefit to all.
Technology is like medicine: It should be shared, affordable, adaptable and measurable.
It takes special leadership to scale ag tech in a way that shares economic prosperity. Will more inputs delivered by an autonomous machine work on land that has been farmed for 9,000 years? Not likely — that would require a complementary regenerative action. Though modern-day technology in Canadian agriculture is second skin to you and me, it may be only partially adoptable, applicable and affordable by the farmer a few borders away.
Whatever our role in the future of ag tech — be that innovator, incubator, adaptor or end-user — the challenge is in embracing and executing the belief that technology is for the betterment of all of mankind.
Canadians are leaders in ag tech and our new generation will expertly take us where we need to go.
Let us collaborate with others around the world by being culturally attuned, asking what is needed and use agricultural technology to transcend borders, ensuring that we create an ecology of food for all.