Want To Know The Future Of Farming? Just Ask!

If you were to ask, "Alexa, what is the future of farming?" Then, without hesitation, she may answer, "I am."

She just might be right. If you were living under a rock during this past holiday season, then you might have missed the hottest gift of all. No, it wasn't drones. That's so last year. This time, it was the year of the smart virtual assistant—the most popular one being the Echo, better known as Alexa, from Amazon.

Alexa is turning out to be very helpful and also very, very smart around the home. When you're hungry, "Alexa, order my favorite pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms." Twenty minutes later, the Domino's driver is at your doorstep. In bed and forgot to turn off the lights in the kitchen? That's no problem. "Alexa, turn off the kitchen lights." All goes dark.

Alexa is a hit at the consumer level because it does so many things with one simple gesture—you just ask. It is as simple as that. No apps or menus to learn. You just have a conversation with Alexa, and it's done.

It is time that the agriculture industry starts having an Alexa-like technology. We are entering the third year of lower prices, and the attitude in the industry and amongst growers just feels like we're stuck in a rut. The big promises of Big Data have yet to be fulfilled, and there really hasn't been any new industry-changing hardware on the scene. Even if there were, farmers probably wouldn't be shelling out the cash for it right now. Technology in some ways is growing more complex and distant instead of close and personal. Something like Alexa could change that. Here's how.

The first place to start is that a grower's personal assistant needs to be everywhere he or she goes. It needs to be more than a phone app that reminds you of your FSA appointment tomorrow at 10 or your wedding anniversary.

Since the days of the first yield monitor, one of the biggest issues that has plagued precision agriculture is its inability to consistently gather good data at the most basic level—the field level. That's because there are still just too many buttons and too many drop-down menus, and probably the biggest reason, nobody's in the cab with you telling you to do it.

That's the key to this technology in order for it to work—it cannot be passive in nature. It must be able to prompt the conversation and virtually kick you in the seat of your pants when you're not holding up your end of the bargain.

If an "Agricultural Alexa" can truly start this consistent flow of data from the field, then maybe, just maybe it can start to be the two-way street of knowledge that growers truly have envisioned. Big Data becomes much more meaningful when it's simple and timely in nature. Growers want to query whether it's better odds to plant now or a week from now based on history and current weather forecasts. "Alexa, should I plant corn today?" From that simple but complex question, you may find out that there is a 71% chance for better yields if you wait a week to plant. It's a simple answer to a very tough question. These are the types of gifts of real value that an "Agricultural Alexa" could give our industry. Maybe we need to be putting it on Santa's list right now because it's only 11 more months until Christmas.


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