In a recent PMA webinar on "Produce and Emerging Technologies," futurist and author Jack Uldrich encouraged participants to "unlearn" what they think they know about their businesses. Technology continues to evolve at a rapid rate, creating opportunities to increase market share and efficiencies.
Uldrich discussed a number of trends that will transform the business world:
- Wearable technology: Think Fitbit and Google Glass. Google is sending Glass in a new direction as it focuses on some niche applications, including, for example, for crop scouting to detect chlorophyll levels.
- 3D printing and manufacturing: This technology is already being used to print combine parts for tractors.
- Advances in nanotechnology: Nissan developed the first self-cleaning car with nano paint. In the produce industry, companies are already developing new packaging that keeps produce and other perishables fresher, increasing shelf life.
- Robotics: A robot, developed by MIT, can use lasers to tell whether a tomato is at the optimal level for picking and then can pick the tomato off the vine without damaging it. Robotic detection and picking of weeds could dramatically reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers needed.
- Internet of Things: Computer chips and sensors are getting better, and they’re also becoming more affordable. As impressive as the Internet has been, only about 20 percent of the global economy is really connected to the Internet. In the coming decade, the other 80 percent is going to be connected. Some farmers are putting computer systems in bales of hay to monitor for the optimum moisture level for good feed, which leads to a huge competitive advantage.
- Gene sequencing technology: Eight years ago, the technology to sequence a human genome cost $150 million. By 2013, that cost had dropped to $10,000. Last year, the same technology cost about $1,000. At that same rate, Uldrich predicts it will be more expensive in 2020 to flush your toilet than it will be to sequence your genome.
- Artificial intelligence: Three years ago, IBM super-computer Watson won ‘Jeopardy!’. In the last three years, Watson has gotten 1,000 times faster, and IBM is now using a computing research project called Deep Thunder to gain a competitive advantage through the improvement of short-term weather forecasting.
- Big Data: Some companies, like Amazon, see technology as key in the future of agriculture. For example, Amazon Fresh is gathering data with the hope of knowing what a customer wants before the customer knows he or she wants it, Uldrich said. They might not know yet exactly when Jane wants to buy something, but they know with a high probability when people in a select area are going to want certain products.
Precision agriculture has been around for years, Uldrich said. And 50 years ago, when the first color TV came out, it was decidedly different than most TVs. Now, they’re just called “TVs” and are assumed to be color. The same thing is likely to happen to the word “precision” in “precision agriculture.”
“It’s all getting so affordable that everyone should be able to use those tools to dramatically increase your yields and improve what you’re doing,” Uldrich said. “With prescriptive planting, essentially, you’ll have so much data you’ll know exactly where to plant that seed, at exactly what depth, with exactly how much water and how much fertilizing.”
He recommended taking a “think week” to step away and reflect on how fast your world is changing. If you’re saying you don’t have that week, you’re saying you don’t have 2 percent of your time to think. If that’s not feasible, he recommended breaking that down to 12 minutes a day. Advancement can also depend largely on a leader’s willingness to accept ambiguity, Uldrich said.
“Whenever you see the world from one perspective, acknowledge there may be another perspective, or in many cases multiple perspectives,” he said. “The world is a really ambiguous place.”
Watch the entire webinar: