Note: This article also appears on the Emerging Prairie website and a huge thank-you to them for giving me the opportunity to write an article for them. My first, as an agriculture communicator.
Over 300 people attended the 2nd annual Cultivate Conference hosted by Emerging Prairie on November 15th, 2018. The conference was a convergence of technology and agriculture presented in TED-style talks from companies providing software programs and applications for farmers and ranchers to do their job better.
“One of the biggest challenges today is to evaluate the combination of various technologies to arrive at the answer to ‘What is Best?’”, was the critical concept presented by Peter Schott of Genesis Feed Technologies.
To answer the question, the presenters highlighted products that addressed diverse problems such as, tractor safety, getting wireless and internet to the farm with a presentation from the infrastructure panel, outdated technology in the back office, tillage, renting and managing land, weather, the cost and availability of feed, and other applications bringing technology to make their job easier.
“I can get 24 tons of feed in two hours; I can’t get Domino’s.” joked Carl Lippert of Grass Ridge Farm, when talking about his app, Feed Manager, developed for his dairy farm in Wisconsin and available to farmers.
With the increase in world population, a continuing labor shortage, and the shifting demographics of farms getting larger, Brian Carroll, Director of the Center for Excellence at Emerging Prairie and his team, has a dream that farming will be autonomous by 2050. To do this, Carroll proposes an EPCOT (experimental prototype community of tomorrow) type center where technology comes together to interact in Fargo.
“We have all the parts in place, we have great companies, we have a university system, we have innovators, we have people building businesses, we have opportunities here that are really the key parts of the engine,” said Carroll. “What we need to do now as a community, is to put a focus on those together and turn that into a high performing engine.”
To do this, Carroll proposed a four-step process for that goal to come to fruition. The first step in the process is an ecosystem to identify opportunities for products to be built. Second is to start thinking about an accelerator and fill it with businesses around the gaps. Then move into a makerspace, an area where people can come together from different organizations in order to work and collaborate, but also share technology. Lastly, as Carroll stresses, the need to target the education system to look for ways in which we build STEM, research, computer science, and machine learning.
“Our generation may be the last generation to drive a tractor,” said Ryan Raguse, Co-Founder and Chairman of Myriad Mobile, the parent company of Bushel and one of the event sponsors. “There are two types of futurists, indefinite and definite. We need to be the definite futurists and believe the future is going to happen – you get a say.”
The event concluded with the farmer’s panel consisting of Chris Johnson of C&S Farms, Sarah Lovas of Lovas Farms, and Zach Johnson of MN Millennial Farmer. The group discussed such issues as buying and marketing online, technology and the challenges from a generational standpoint, and products that could solve a current pain point. A few things that the panel discussed were, that it is essential to have the service to back-up the product, that it is excellent when it works, and there’s a difference between the analytics saying what’s best for the farm and the actual art form of farming. The panel found the conference very informative and expressed optimism with the current labor shortage, the goal of achieving an autonomous farm.
“There is a lot of great technologies that were presented. It’s very exciting to hear about all the creativity in agriculture,” said Lovas. “Creativity and imagination are a part of being a farmer, and it’s great when we can see that coming from the technology and software standpoint.”
Greg Tehven, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Emerging Prairie, regards the Cultivate Conference as a space for collaboration and exploration of possibilities where technology can create efficiencies for the farmer and hopes to build on its potential.
“Based on the national interest with folks coming in from around the country, as well as the number of farmers who drove from across the state to be here, there’s a tremendous amount of potential,” said Tehven. “We hope to keep building partnerships to bring great innovators from around the world to come to North Dakota to meet folks and see how they can connect together.”