Globalization And Precision Agriculture

Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for this negativity is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries. Its purpose was to open up Eastern markets to American-made goods.

As recently reported by Kevin Granville in the New York Times, the TPP is the largest regional trade accord in history with “an annual gross domestic product of nearly $28 trillion that represents roughly 40% of global Gross Domestic Product and one-third of world trade.” In some sense, the TPP by its shear weight may be the reason why it has become a flashpoint for people questioning globalization.

Globalization is seen by some as the coming together of people from the four corners of the world in the unprecedented exchange of everything that defines us as a society. In articles, it is characterized by words such as international, interaction, integration, interconnectedness, investment, and information. The effect of globalization can be seen in every aspect of our lives. In the case of sports, 50 years ago, kids would follow national baseball or football teams in cities closest to their home towns. Today, they follow teams anywhere in the country. Sports teams once restricted to the U.S. now play in other countries. Clothing styles that were distinct by nationality 50 years ago are now similar worldwide. Fast food chains started regionally in the U.S. are now in almost every country. Example after example can be given as evidence of the impact of globalization in our lives. It is little wonder why some people fear its impact.

Going Back in History

The phenomenon we call “globalization” is not something new. Anthropologists like to point out that globalization can be traced back to the movement of humans out of Africa millions of years ago. Even as races became isolated geographically, there was always evidence of trade or other social interactions. With each advance in transport technologies through history, globalization picked up speed. The domestication of horses moved people and goods faster than walking. Sailing ships could carry bigger cargoes of goods faster than caravans of animals. As sailing ships became larger and faster, they led the way for transoceanic explorations in the 15th and 16th centuries and the movement of goods between continents throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Steamboats and trains followed sailing ships in the 19th century and airplanes followed them in the 20th century. Every new technology and improvements in old transport technologies allowed for larger volumes of goods to move faster around the world.

While the trading of goods is usually associated with globalization, information also played an important role in its expansion. In fact, information impacted trade and vice versa. Beginning with the printing press in the 15th century, the printed word was spread far and wide on horseback and ships. Books stored knowledge about the best places to trade and where to find natural resources in the world. Some were how-to manuals on transporting goods or getting started in the commerce business. Inventions such as the slide ruler in the 17th century allowed an individual to quickly perform arithmetic operations in trade transactions. The appearance of the pendulum clock in the same century gave households and businesses their first accurate timepiece. The semaphore telegraph at the end of the 18th century allowed for the visual transmission of signals using a network of mechanical devices. Messages could be transmitted in a matter of hours as compared to days by horseback.

The discovery of electromagnetism in the early 19th century and its harnessing in devices provided unprecedented opportunities to move information. Beginning with the invention of the telegraph in the mid-19th century, individuals could exchange electrical signals in the form of Morse code over wires in a matter of minutes. Late in the same century, the invention of the telephone permitted instantaneous voice transmission between two individuals by sending electrical signals over wires. At the turn of the 20th century, radio allowed for the wireless transmission of voice. Television added the wireless transmission of imagery along with sound in the first quarter of the 20th century. The first electronic computer with its ability to calculate complex mathematical operations became a reality in the mid-20th century. Telstar, the first commercial telecommunications satellite launched in 1962, permitted the real-time transmission of text and images between Europe and North America. With each successive launch of telecommunications satellites, more and more of the world became linked through television and, by the end of the 20th century, through mobile devices.

Looking at Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture has benefited from globalization but its impact has been felt in agricultural communities. The U.S. is the largest exporter of food products around the world. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, export share of production was 22.2% by volume. Foreign destinations represent important niche markets for some specialty crops. In all cases, precision agriculture has provided tools for planning and recording management practices at the whole field or subfield level.

The globalization of companies either through mergers or through the acquisition of small companies has affected agriculture just like other industries. This aggregation of companies has eliminated jobs in one country but has created jobs in other parts of the world. It has created a diversity of opportunity as there is a steadily growing world populace with changing food palates.

Precision agriculture has been the tip of the spear of technical progress in agriculture. With its endless march of innovation driven by machinery, computers, telecommunications, mobile devices, photography, software, genetics, chemicals, and other material aspects of production, it has contributed positively to agricultural communities worldwide. However, unlike many other aspects of agricultural production, precision agriculture demands that individuals keep learning and adapting to new technologies. Otherwise, these individuals will be challenged by competition from outside their communities.

Agriculture production is evolving into an industrial operation, where man, machine, and information are becoming orchestrated in a scientifically-sound and technically-supported enterprise. It is no longer just about the mechanics of growing a crop but also about competition for resources and acceptance in international markets. Today, growers must worry about competing for water for irrigation and skilled employees. They also need to be aware of changing purchasing patterns in the marketplace with their emphasis on quality and production practices.

The pace of change and the challenges of globalization are making heads spin not only on the farm but throughout the industry. But change and challenge can be translated into an opportunity for individuals who have a vision and the knowledge and skills to succeed.

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