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How Farmers Can Rule the World With Technology
Nikolas Badminton is a futurist and researcher who focuses on helping clients shift from “what is” to “what if.” His clients include NASA, Google, Microsoft, Dell, United Nations, and hundreds of others.
Badminton was a keynote speaker at the Land Expo 2020, where he focused on how farmers can fuel their imaginations and creativity to create a future that’s more resilient, profitable and equitable.
Successful Farming caught up with Badminton ahead of the event.
SF: What technologies do you see impacting agriculture the most in 2020?
NB: There are four main technologies that are really starting to make waves. They're going to gain pace and see a huge amount of adoption.
1. Renewable energy. We’re seeing huge solar and wind projects popping up all over the world. There are solar panels that can live on stilts above crops. We're going to slowly wean ourselves off of our reliance on coal and other fossil fuels for energy.
2. Sensors. We are putting the internet of agricultural things into the field, onto cattle as wearable devices, and embedded into farm equipment. These sensors harvest data from the environment and give farmers a new view of their operations. That gives them a lot of power.
3. Data. Farmers are becoming more data savvy in a number of different ways. They are applying analytics, employing data science teams to help them unlock value, and working with agronomists.
4. Artificial intelligence. Farmers will use machine learning to unlock even more value from data. Artificial intelligence is driving automated vehicles. Automated robotics can help on the farm in certain ways, or provide surveying through drones.
SF: Can you give us an update on bitcoin and blockchain?
NB: We need to decouple those. Bitcoin is a crypto currency that lives on the blockchain. And blockchain is an anonymous, immutable ledger that's completely secure. So everyone shares all of the information and everyone validates all transactions on the blockchain.
Bitcoin is still there, and so are other cryptocurrencies. Facebook tried to come out with their Libra coin, which is a stable coin attached to the U.S. dollar, but a lot of banks and partners dropped out because they just don't trust Facebook to make that work.
There are about 2 billion unbanked people in the world that could be helped through cryptocurrencies, although I don't necessarily think it will be Bitcoin. It will be something from Facebook, Amazon, Google or one of the other big tech players.
Underneath that is the blockchain. There are some really interesting things happening with food supply chains there. You can store transactions or logistical steps in the supply chain on the blockchain and find that information very quickly because it’s not distributed across a bunch of databases in different companies. Companies like IBM and Walmart are teaming up to build blockchain systems for food supply. They can find problems in the food supply chain almost immediately versus it taking days and days of trolling through data. Blockchain is super interesting from the food supply perspective. There are other applications in the world, but it's logistics where it's starting to catch on fire.
SF: What is the latest in biological technology, such as gene editing?
NB: It’s coming out of the laboratory and into the farms somewhat. There are smaller farms that are starting to be experimental and teaming up with scientists. There’s lots of really cool stuff happening, but it’s not rolled out on a commercial scale yet. Scientists have to prove that it's not going to be harmful for the overall environment. Once they've done that, it's going to be a technology that's available to a lot of different farmers all over the world.
With all technologies, there are going to be some farmers that are going to be able to afford it and some farmers that aren't. That is going to cause an unfair advantage. Is the farming industry suddenly going to be thrust into the hands of big corporates versus smaller farmers? That's a really interesting debate that's going to be had over the next couple of years.
SF: You mentioned artificial intelligence. Where do you see that playing out in agriculture?
NB: AI is going to affect every single industry in the world and every single part of agriculture. It will streamline the processes and systems we use to connect to other farmers and to suppliers. For example, we will use facial recognition on cattle to see if they're well.
I think the biggest application of AI is collecting surveying data very quickly, finding new insights from that, and allowing farmers to improve operations on their farms. Artificial intelligence is going to drive small robotics on farms and also large scale vehicles. It’s going to be a game changer.
SF: New technology can be intimidating. Can farmers make it work?
NB: People have always underestimated how much farmers are technologically savvy. Bill Gates wasn’t sure farmers would use a computer, and now he is one of the biggest agricultural landowners in North America. Farmers picked up on handheld devices, like phones and iPads, quickly. They're looking for technology to help them build out the resiliency of their farm. With the right amount of subsidies and incentives and help, farmers are going to be some of the most technologically advanced people operating in the business world. Technology is a huge advantage for farmers.
SF: What else is important for farmers to realize?
NB: Farmers are futurists. They consider the next harvest, the next crop, the schedule, weather patterns, and everything that could affect them in the next year. But we're stuck in a world of what is. We're looking at the problems in front of us and we have to deal with them. I've been talking a lot to farmers in Canada, and it's tough times. It's really difficult.
I invite farmers to ask the question, "What if?" What if we take on new technologies and how does that change the farm? What if we make that investment? What if we take a brave step forward into a new world with big data, artificial intelligence, and sensors? What future is that going to build for us?
That approach of creativity and imagination, mixed with really thorough business knowledge and acumen, is going to liberate farmers to be able to do more in the long term.