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Summit speaker envisions high-tech future for agriculture

Futurist Thomas Frey will highlight emerging trends and technology as he pinpoints why agriculture is fast becoming "the coolest profession on Earth" during his talk at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit next week in Ames.

"Thomas will look at trends and what implications they might have for farmers in Iowa five and 10 years down the road," said Dave Miller, Iowa Farm Bureau director of research and commodity services. "He’ll talk about smart technology coming into agriculture and the impact these technologies have on attracting young people to ag."

Frey, the executive director at the DaVinci Institute, spent 15 years as an engineer and designer at IBM, where he received more than 270 awards. His talk will begin at 11 a.m. on July 21.

While farmers today commonly use precision technology and GPS to plant and spray more accurately, the stage is being set for "explosive precision," Frey says.

"Future agribusiness professionals will be some of the most highly skilled people on earth and the envy of the executive class," he says. "The stage is being set for an unprecedented new generation of farming driven by ever greater levels of precision, relevancy and control, the likes of which will transition the once primitive profession into a hotbed for techno-geek agrarians packing handhelds and data readers trained to monitor far more than markets, yields, costs and moisture content."

Researchers are developing technology that will enable what he calls "smart dust" — a network of tiny wireless sensors planted in the soil to detect light, temperature, vibrations and chemical composition.

"First-generation smart dust will be quite expensive, and each particle will be carefully tracked. But a few innovation cycles later, the price will plummet, and over time, their use will become ubiquitous," Frey says.

Technology will also allow farmers to become more tuned into the nutritional needs and desires of consumers, Frey says.

"The entire demand-driven supply chain will be wired to the needs of the end user," he says.

Other trends, like vertical farming, will provide farmers more control over the growing environment, Frey says.

"Farming is an industry with far too many variables to yield consistent results," he says. "Farmers are constantly searching for better ways to gain control of the hundreds of variables that currently exist."

The third annual IFBF Eco­nomic Summit will be held July 21 and 22 at the Iowa State Center in the Scheman Building on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The summit will be moderated this year by Mike Pearson of public television’s "Market to Market" and is patterned after the popular summits from 2012 and 2013.

In addition to Frey’s outlook, the summit agenda is packed with other leading national experts — like David Oppedahl, economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; Kevin Price, Kansas State University’s national expert on drone use in agriculture; Mary Kay Thatcher, farm policy expert with the American Farm Bureau Federation; and Will Zhang, an Iowa-based expert on China.

Here's an agenda of all scheduled speakers and information on registration and lodging. The cost of the summit is now $75 for Iowa Farm Bureau members and $175 for non-members.

 



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