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Karen Giovannini  |  University of California Cooperative Extension  |  Santa Rosa, CA

Subject: AgTech

I was recently in a meeting about AgTech and how the rural communities don't have adequate access to the internet to take full advantage or even use these technologies. There was also discussion about how using AgTech doesn't necessarily reduce the amount of labor needed - humans are needed to run/fix the technology...for higher labor costs (better paying jobs). But the idea was to reduce inputs and increase yields by farming smarter and that overall the savings would be greater. Thoughts about AgTech for small farms? Availability or not of the internet to use it? AgTech and labor? Thanks

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Comments 8
05/17/18
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

This article is relevant: https://newfoodeconomy.org/broadband-rural-america-verizon-att-fcc/

[...]

Co-ops can solve internet black holes in rural America. Imagine what they could do with federal funding.

Electric co-op advocates, including the Institute for Local Self Reliance, insist that rural co-ops do a better job of serving rural America than corporate interests ever have. At a minimum, allowing co-ops to apply for funding could dispel the notion that FCC is beholden to corporate interests. Famously, last fall, the agency ruled in favor of declassifying the internet as a utility, a move seen as paving the way for companies like Verizon to earn more money by throttling content.

Both the Institute, and Newell, believe those major telecommunications carriers have too much influence in state legislatures. Newell, for one, is more tapped into funding opportunities from the United States

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05/18/18 9:53 AM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

To Mike Madison: I can’t address the fact that technology wouldn’t be a preferred aesthetic for some farmers. Personally, I love it. I also love solving problems and challenges or looking to disassemble systems to put them back together in a way it works again but in a diff way. So I guess we have diff ways of enjoying farming.

Having said that..some ways tech can help is count the number of fruits that need picking. Low flying drones(smaller and less noisy ones can be easily made if there is a need) can fly the length of a row to figure where exactly an unsightly patch of water is really actually a water leak. Automated harvesting of lettuce with water jets or water knives will improve food security because they are latex based stems. Water knives are useful for cole crops too...Taylor farms uses it and it’s suitable for indoor farms too. You can create a data base of everyday temperatures and

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05/18/18 7:54 AM
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  |  Yolo Press  |  Winters, CA commented

Many advantages of small-scale technology are illusory. You can install sensors and timers and solenoids to automate irrigation, but every time irrigation is turned on someone has to walk the entire system checking emitters and sprinklers--some will be clogged up, others damaged by animals or equipment. Given that, you might as well just have a manual on-off valve.

On a more basic level, many small-scale farmers have chosen their profession as a way of life. For many, farm work, if not too rushed and desperate, is a meditative undertaking. I have four tractors and a yard full of implements, but I often prefer to work by hand, which is quieter, and lets me make more subtle observations of my crops. This relates to the differing views of farming as industry (big ag) vs. farming as care of an ecosystem (artisanal ag).

For me, the main value of the internet (slow and expensive on the

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05/18/18 5:35 AM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

i have said this before in another context but it applies here too. the strength of small farmers is in their cooperation. data is gold. Every bit of information you give away is valuable..questionnaires, permits, reports...it’s useful in some way to someone. Water, wages, organic inputs, how much you harvest..every time you give that away, someone is devouring it. That’s fine. its helping someone or something.

but when we complain that only big farms get all the tech and no one cares about small family farms, they don’t understand that it’s a faustianbargai. The big investors are making high tech available for small fees to the ‘big guys’ because there is no such thing as a free lunch. It takes millions and millions of dollars and the best minds and stellar computing prowess to give them what they need for a small fee that those ‘big commodity farmers‘ can afford. To make up, the guys

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05/17/18 10:16 PM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

Case in point: one of the uses for drone technology was to fly over parking lots near shopping malls and get data about traffic patterns. You’d think it has something to do with retailers or shopping data. But no. realtors wanted that data. most shopping hubs are owned by REITs or real estate trusts and pension funds and investment funds. So...traffic data isn’t what it seems. It’s making money in Wall Street. Keeping that in mind, I am not broken over the fact that we don’t have internet enabled tech. I just want labour saving and back saving automation tech so I can take care of my land and be a good farm steward.

05/17/18 9:51 PM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

I also want to add that large agtech companies are sitting on a mountain of valuable data they collect fron large farms (1000s of acres)..often about commodities and staples and stuff that is traded. This data can be a lot of ‘noise’ but part of it is useful to farmers(for which they pay a small fee)...but no one really knows what the tech companies will do with the rest of the data. For example..indoor Ag tech collecting information about marijuana growing has valuable information as does corn/soy/cotton..can you imagine how much commodity futures trader would pay for that kind of info for Wall Street shenanigans...maybe to retailers like Safeway, Krogers or to the insurance companies. prudential was one of the first insurance companies to invest in farm lands. Large pension funds as well as farmland REITs do too. Farming is big $$$$...just not for the farmers. Why? Because we don’t speak loud

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05/17/18 9:26 PM
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  |  Hogue  |  Benicia, CA commented

I agree that technology is useful and maybe even necessary on the farm. I have a neighbor who is a small farmer tending about two acres. He showed me a seed planter he had bought and is convinced that thus little piece of technology saves him an enormous amount of time and stooping over labor. I know he is about 35 years younger than me, and I am convinced that he doesn't really miss planting some of his seeds by hand.

05/17/18 4:43 PM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

many different issues here:

1. use of internet for technologies is mostly for data harvesting tech that relies on the cloud or transmission of information from tractor to cloud to farmers device etc. its not acceptable that rural communities dont have adequate internet access in this time and age, but that is an irrelevant issue to ag and tech. thats a problem of local govts and regulations.

2. agtech and labour. there are two kinds of tech. one that collects data and streamlines tasks so that the work is efficient and there is optimisation. this enhances labour, reduces food wastage, improves employee satisfaction, track data etc. the other kind of tech is mechanisation, automation etc of the tasks themselves. example: in the mid west, its possible to plant and harvest and work a combine with just a tablet.

for small farms, labour is the biggest cost. improper resource allocation like that of water,

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05/17/18 2:57 PM

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