Emerging technology, from drones to big data to cloud-based computing, is all the buzz in agriculture today. But it’s tough for most farmers to cut through the euphoria and techno-speak to determine just how all of this emerging technology will fit into their own operations, or even if it makes economic sense to invest in it, according to Dave Miller, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) director of research and commodity services.

"We are on the cusp of change in a lot of technologies, and we don’t know all of its potential yet. If fact, in a lot of cases, we don’t even know yet what questions to ask about the technology," Miller said.

Looking for insights

The 2014 IFBF Economic Summit will provide farmers a unique opportunity to get an unbiased and unvarnished look at new technology and its potential uses, Miller said. "None of us really have the answers to that yet, so it makes sense to bring in some of the experts at the IFBF summit to provide insights into the potential opportunities and pitfalls of the technology."

The third annual IFBF Econ­omic Summit is set for July 21 and 22 at the Iowa State Center at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. It will be moderated this year by Mike Pearson of public televisions Market-to-Market and is patterned after the popular summits from 2012 and 2013.

Technology will be a big part of the 2014 summit, including a presentation on the use of UAVs or drones in agriculture from Kevin Price of Robo-Flight, a nationally known expert in the field. He and others have predicted that UAVs could have a major impact on agriculture by helping farmers remotely scout fields, spot apply chemicals or perform other functions.

There will also be presentations on big data and its potential impact on agriculture, as well as a discussion of computer apps that are useful for farmers.

In-depth exposure

"For many farmers, I think this will be the first in-depth exposure that many have had to some of these technologies," Miller said. "Most people may have read about the technology in magazine or heard about them in the radio, but this will really help to expand their knowledge base of what’s out there now and what’s coming."

In addition, new technologies are playing a role in livestock production as farmers work to improve feed efficiency, combat disease and respond to changing consumer demand, Miller said.

By talking with people who are experts in these fields, farmers can get a much better idea of how these technologies can be employed or adapted for their own farms, Miller said.

"I think for most of us, just talking to very knowledgeable people in this field can make a light bulb come on and we can come up with new ways to think about this technology," he said.

The presenters at the summit will also look at how the technology will fit into different sizes and types of farms, Miller said. "There is a tendency to think that all of this technology is very size dependent and will only work for larger farmers. But that is not always the case."

Here's an agenda of scheduled speakers and information on registration and lodging. The cost of the summit is $50 for Iowa Farm Bureau members and $150 for non-members.