It’s said the best way to predict the future is to create it — and farmers do both.
Even futurists struggle to stay on top of the pace of change in agriculture, said Nikolas Badminton, keynote speaker at the Farm Management Canada’s Agricultural Excellence conference in Winnipeg in late November.
This was the only speech he’d made to farmers in 2018, and there were many revisions and updates to add to the last one he gave, said Badminton, a renowned thinker on the future of work, the sharing economy, and technological advancements worldwide.
Why it matters: New ways of farming have never been needed more than today.
Clearly, when it comes to innovation and adoption of smart tech the Canadian farm is already there and going full throttle forward, he said.
Badminton said the phenomena is referred to as ‘Agriculture 3.0,’ and refers to the convergence of key trends in communications, renewable energy and transportation that are fundamentally changing how farming and the production of food happens.
Widely referred to as ‘the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ we are at a stage where agricultural robots, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and a vast range of new applications of technology for soil and crop management are about to take farmers to entirely new levels in the way they approach their work. We will continue to see ways that the gathering and analysis of big data gives us the big picture and helps us find solutions to problems we can’t solve on our own.
Artificial intelligence and its applications in agriculture will be this game changer and it will fundamentally change this industry just as electrification did in the last century, Badminton said.
“It’s going to liberate knowledge in data that we’ve never seen before,” said Badminton. “We’re stepping into something called the wisdom economy.”
In an interview following his talk, Badminton said he keeps abreast of how entire communities embrace innovations to their benefit, too. Olds, Alberta’s development of its own municipally based broadband now attracts world attention and has resulted in a burgeoning agri-tech sector, he said.
“That’s a real-world example of that liberation in a smaller community. There is investment that will be needed, but there are huge opportunities, because if you’ve got a good connection, you can be anywhere in the world.”
Change means disruption, however, and the speed of change can and does cause distress and uneasiness, too, he said. Key to adapting to this brave new world is to to stay curious about it, and keep learning, Badminton said.
“To be literate in 2019 and beyond you need to learn, unlearn and relearn,” he said, noting that notion originates with author Alvin Toffler who penned the book Future Shock.
Manitoba farmer, Reg Dyck, who now teaches farm business management at University of Manitoba, was in the audience listening to Badminton’s talk.
Only time will tell whether the futurists’ predictions are right or wrong, Dyck said.
However, many farm technologies commonplace today were inconceivable just a short time ago.
“I think it was around 1968 I went with my grandfather, or my dad, to a John Deere show. I was a kid of about 10 at the time. They’d do promo films and they showed a tractor in the field cultivating a cornfield in Iowa. There was no driver on it. The farm owner was sitting on his veranda drinking lemonade watching the tractor go back and forth,” he said.
“I remember the crowd laughing. And now it’s here.”
So are Global Positioning Systems. Not so long ago farmers walked their fields or used a bicycle wheel to mark distances for spraying.
“That’s completely gone now. Everyone has GPS and field monitors.”
He foresees many more applications of smart technology ahead, such as in transportation and the movement of rail cars.
“Smart technology will analyze things and improve them,” he said. “It will allow us to rule out the things that don’t work.”