LAS CRUCES – It may take time to teach an old farmer new tricks. But technological innovations in agriculture stand to boost the industry if they can be put into use in the fields.
The discussion surrounding how to get the industry to embrace emerging technology came to the fore during the inaugural Ag Assembly event, hosted by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center earlier this month. Ag Assembly brought to the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum a series of productive agricultural market leaders to talk about demands from the front lines, translating ideas from vision to reality, and the future of technical investment in agriculture.
Vonnie Estes, a consultant and former vice president of business development for Caribou Biosciences, said incubators and accelerators, such as Arrowhead’s AgSprint, are a valuable link in getting emerging technology to the marketplace.
“One of the biggest values is just putting the entrepreneur in an ecosystem that helps them,” Estes said. “I see how far those young people get from where they started, just learning how to pitch their ideas to someone, get some of the science done, get some of the work done and then attract investment. It puts them in an ecosystem where people can help them. They come out the other end and they are ready to move forward. If you are trying to do that alone in Las Cruces with no one to talk to except yourself, it takes a long time to get there.”
Estes noted the world population is expected to rise from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050 and, with the added risk to crop production brought on by climate change, farmers must increase production with fewer inputs and on less land.
A consumer focus on health and wellness has spurred a demand for new varietals with enhanced nutritional attributes and new protein sources that are non-animal, she said.
Changes brought on in the 1980s and 1990s have become more complex as consumers have become resistant to some of the genetic modification practices and the introduction of digital management for everything from irrigation to plant health monitoring and fertilizer application.
The technology is currently available to analyze satellite images of cropland, monitor in-field conditions, assess crop and soil health, feed that information to agricultural robots for tilling, irrigation, weed control and more. Applications are available that combine the information into predictive analytics to help the producer plan for upcoming seasons and to control cost.
New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte spoke later in the conference during a panel discussion with other agricultural leaders. Witte noted the digital revolution was simply the latest in the ongoing revolution of agriculture.
“Agriculture has been through a number of technological revolutions, from the mechanization of cotton picking to improved irrigation efficiencies from water delivery systems,” Witte said. “In fact, in New Mexico, research indicates the Mogollon Indians developed primitive irrigation systems to improve crop growth. As the world population continues to grow, land and water resources become limited. The technology developed and promoted at events such as this will be critical to producing the food to feed our families, neighbors, the state, nation and world.
“The agriculture and food sector continues to evolve through technology to help address resource challenges such as labor, high cost of inputs relative to a low margin product,” Witte continued. “These innovators have had success and my goal is to encourage others to pursue their passion and dreams and help address some of our critical issues through their own innovative solutions.”