5 Voices: What’s Hot in Vegetable Technology?
Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and moneyed folks who want to be a player in the effort to feed the world have discovered the $8 trillion agriculture industry, writes Lee Allen on GrowingProduce.com.
Forbes magazine noticed the trend in a 2016 article, in which it reported “technological innovation is inevitable, with many subsectors for inventors, investors, farmers, and industry stakeholders to navigate.”
The magazine categorized the technology subsectors as on-the-farm inputs (soil amendments, seeds, genetics, feed, fertilizers, and pesticides) and the field of precision agriculture — big data, smart equipment, sensors, and software via helpers like drones, and robotics, and new business models such as cellular or controlled environment ag.
USDA also lauds advancements like machines, devices, sensors, and information technology — sophistication through sensors, aerial images, GPS technology, and robotics that will “allow businesses to be more efficient, safe, profitable, and environmentally friendly.”
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Traditionally, the best way to get the most honest answers about a product is to ask someone who uses it. So we did, several times, on several subjects.
Here’s how five leaders responded:
Richard Smith: We’re in the Model-T Stage of Tech
Richard Smith, an Extension agent in Monterey County, CA, brings a field perspective of new developments in lettuce thinning technology involving spot and spray.
“Spray mechanisms with herbicide get rid of the unwanted and leave the keeper plants alone,” he says. “They can also put on a second manifold that will spray fungicides or insecticides on the keepers, so it’s two operations in one pass that lowers cost because of the ultra-precise use of compound.”
Machines with vision, cameras, and computers are becoming more prevalent in the field in an effort to make up for less hand labor.
“Think back 100 years ago about how automobiles developed,” says Smith. “This is kind of the Model T phase for some of these machines that inspect and reject. Because spinach is mechanically harvested, they look down on a spinach bed, searching for yellowing leaves or bird contamination, and little plates come out and push the bad leaves down so the harvester cuts only the good stuff.”
Other advancements are coming under the umbrella of multiple missions, two or three things at the same time. A good example is a plant tape machine with drip irrigation that allows mechanical planting and initial watering of the field.
“You’re starting to see growers adapt things that aren’t so obvious because there’s no fancy machine in the field, but it’s helping growers deal with the lack of labor factor,” Smith says.