Agtech innovation is continually evolving, making more advanced tools available for farmers and ranchers. Although a slow process, farmers and ranchers have been more receptive to adopting automation and mechanization in their operations. Cooperative Extension Specialist and Weed Scientist with UC Davis, Steve Fennimore said that several factors come into play as to why agtech adoption has grown.
“There are a number of trends that are contributing to this,” Fennimore explained. “I think age and demographics of the decision-makers in ag, and I think people are getting more comfortable with this, that’s probably driving a lot of it. There are reasons to cut costs, increase your reliability and resilience and as well people don’t want to be left out.”
Fennimore describes one of the most significant advancements he has seen has been the machines developed for lettuce thinning. Some fields are still thinned by hand; however, machine thinning has become more and more popular with growers dealing with labor challenges. The costs associated with labor have been steadily increasing. The availability of a qualified workforce has also declined, making the adoption of agtech innovations more of a necessity.
“This is what one grower told me here in the Salinas Valley which was very succinct. He said, ‘even though I can get my lettuce thinned or hand weeded probably less expensively with a hand crew, I can’t get them when I need them,’” Fennimore noted. “So, if you can’t get the people then you can’t do timely operations. The lettuce gets larger and there are detrimental effects to that. You can’t schedule operations. So, this improves their resilience by having flexibility.”
Agricultural education is helping prepare the next generation of farmers and ranchers to incorporate smarter farming tools in their operations. While the number of ag students falls short of the demand for labor, agtech innovation is striving to accomplish more with less. Agricultural curriculum has been steadily adding more technological components. Familiarizing students with new tools coming into the industry will help keep farming operations productive and competitive into the future.