On the panel were Graham Thompson who is the Director of Business Development at Blue White Robotics. Joining Graham was Gaetan Severac who is the Co-Founder of Naïo Technologies. Filling out the panel was Spencer Gunlund who helps lead Ag R&D for the Morning Star Company. Moderating the panel was Austin Gellings, who serves as the Director of Agriculture with AEM and also leads their Specialty Crop Leadership Group.
To kick the discussion off the panelists were posed the question of where the industry is at on its path towards mechanization and automation of specialty crop equipment. One of the main points raised was that from a mechanization standpoint specialty crops may be behind where the rest of conventional agriculture is at. However, in terms of autonomy, the industry is leading the way and seeing more innovation than most other areas, not just in agriculture. This is because the industry is skipping the mechanization step and going straight to automation to achieve a number of the benefits that the group would later highlight.
Following a discussion on the progress of the industry’s journey the panelists were then asked as to highlight what some of those benefits that these technologies afford farmers are. The biggest point that the group hit home was that it affords farmers the ability to upscale the jobs they have to offer their labor force. This makes the jobs more attractive to those who may have not otherwise considered working in agriculture. It also affords farmers to use labor to focus on other areas of the operation and potentially open up new revenue streams. Lastly, this equipment is constantly gathering data that the farmer can then use to gain deeper insights into their operations to make better decisions that can ultimately result in greater cost savings.
Building off of the questions about the benefits of these technologies, the group was asked about what types of environmental benefits can be associated with these technologies. Those data insights is where those benefits can be seen once again according to the group. By having the ability to make more better, accurate decisions for their crops farmers typically reduce a number of inputs. Autonomy also can lead to less passes through the field and more accurate placement of inputs which also equates to greater environmental benefits as well.
Next, the panel was asked what the future of specialty crop farming will look like and how these solutions will shape that future. According to the panel one of the most important points is how these technologies will draw in the next generation. Agriculture in general, but especially specialty crop agriculture is facing a labor shortage and one of the solutions is creating a tech savvy, less labor-intensive environment that will interest the next generation. It will also afford farmers the opportunity to diversify and build out more resilient operation as they find themselves and their workers with more time to allocate towards different areas of the farm.
The panel finished their discussion with why it is important to promote these solutions and how the industry can help farmers adopt and implement these technologies. They made it known that it is important that the industry works with farmers to understand the technology and help them to understand which ones are best to incorporate into their operations, knowing that every farm is different. However, in order to do this the industry must leverage forums like FIRA to bring all stake holders together so that they may learn from one another to keep the industry moving forward.