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Commentary: On-farm innovation continues to transform agriculture

Issue Date: February 13, 2013
By Bob Stallman
American agriculture has transformed from use of horse-drawn implements to technology that has dramatically increased production while lowering prices.
American agriculture has transformed from use of horse-drawn implements to technology that has dramatically increased production while lowering prices.
Bob Stallman

Albert Einstein once said, "If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got." I’ve tried to adhere to this mantra throughout my life by embracing risk and thinking outside of the box.

American agriculture, too, follows this philosophy pretty darn well. Through innovation and thinking big, U.S. farmers and ranchers have transformed agriculture from mule-and-plow operations into one of the most tech-savvy and society-changing industries in the modern world.

There’s a popular theory that goes something like this: Failure is not an option—it’s a requirement. Fear of failing dooms us to repeat what others have done, therefore never finding innovation and change. So, if we are going to think big, we will certainly at some point fail big. But it’s these failures that in the end make us better than what we were.

Without a doubt, modern agriculture has had its ups and downs getting to where it is today. In other words, it’s failed big on an occasion or two. But because of that, modern agriculture is at the forefront in technology, leading to greater efficiency and safety. Recently, at the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting, former astronaut Mark Kelly talked about the various satellites NASA uses. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but think to myself that farmers also use satellites and other precision agriculture technologies in their line of work to increase yields and reduce chemical use.

American agriculture has employed science and technology to dramatically increase production and choice while lowering prices, but these changes have also altered the experience of farmers and the public in unexpected ways.

No longer are we just producing food for our families; each farmer now feeds 155 people. We are using innovative methods to meet the future global demand of feeding 9 billion people and we are finding breakthroughs in cancer research and eradicating other diseases through the groundbreaking uses of food we produce.

Recognizing U.S. agriculture’s role in the business sector, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is partnering with farmers, ranchers and American agricultural businesses to build a collection that reflects modern agricultural practices. The initiative, called "American Enterprise," will be unveiled in spring 2015 and will celebrate precision farming, traceability, environmental practices, irrigation, biotechnology and hybrid seeds.

Agriculture has played a vital role in the development of America’s business sector, from innovation and enterprise to the entrepreneurial spirit that has always been a major focus of America’s farms and ranches.

Not only is Farm Bureau partnering with the Smithsonian on this exciting venture, the first donation to the exhibit came from a Tennessee Farm Bureau member, dairy farmer Pat Campbell. Campbell gave the museum a selection of photographs, a computer cow tag and a reader unit to show the change in dairying from a hand-labor-intensive process to a modern, computer-run operation. The donation will also include his personal recollections about how changing technology has altered his work life and has led to greater efficiency and safety.

The Smithsonian exhibit will showcase to the public what farmers and ranchers have known for a long time: Innovation and technology make agriculture a leading business opportunity; we are an industry where failing big isn’t bad—at least once in awhile—and our modern farming practices are changing the world in which we live. All in all, innovation on the farm is anything but business as usual.

(Bob Stallman, a cattle and rice producer from Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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