Image: AgWeb

[Image: AgWeb]

Agriculture and technology, at first glance, may not seem to go together. Technology is a broad term, but we usually associate it with the future, while agriculture brings up images of the past. It’s one of the oldest industries to still persist today, but it’s also one of the most adaptable. Agriculture has been around in some form since prehistoric days, and certain facets of it haven’t changed: we plant seeds, they grow into plants, we eat the plants and use their seeds to grow more. Our methods for planting and harvesting, however, have changed quite a bit with the development of machinery and chemicals.

Now agriculture is changing again, and, according to Charlie O’Brien, senior vice president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the field is harboring a lot of new career opportunities – particularly technology-based ones. Farmers and tech geeks may never have thought their paths would cross more than incidentally, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

“Agriculture has evolved into an incredibly sophisticated industry, a dream job for technology enthusiasts,” O’Brien said. “No wonder companies like Google are looking at our sector with great interest.”

Unsurprisingly, 3D printing is one of the technologies that has been instrumental in changing the agricultural industry. Equipment manufacturers are using a lot of 3D modeling and printing in production, as well as robotics. It isn’t just the giant corporations who can benefit from the technology, though. O’Brien foresees 3D printing making its way directly onto farms, where farmers can print new parts and equipment on-site, on-demand.

Mini-Farm1

[Image: Airwolf 3D]

Technology has, in fact, been blamed for the “death of the small farmer,” and that is true in many respects: technological and chemical developments have led to easy mass production, putting many family farms and small businesses out of commission. Phil Jennings, service manager at Kinze Manufacturing, thinks that individual farmers can turn the newest technology to their advantage, however. Technology has become much more personal in recent years; 3D printers, robots, and even drones are being made accessible to individuals rather than just large corporations. By utilizing some of these developments, small farmers can become more efficient and productive. It’s not always an easy sell, though.

“Farmers are asking if some of this technology will lead to a positive return on their investment,” Jennings said. “Farmers want to be sure that what they’re doing adds value…We need to step out of our comfort zone a little bit and take some training on new technology components to improve our bottom line.”

Image: Indonesia Technologies

[Image: Indonesia Technologies]

While agricultural advancements have been major contributors to environmental damage, the newest advancements could actually help to lessen some of those negative effects. Smart technology and more efficient manufacturing methods could go a long way towards reducing waste. We’ve seen 3D printing consistently reduce time, cost and materials in just about every industry, and agriculture is no exception. Furthermore, smart data applications are allowing farmers to be better informed than ever before. Sensors, drones and other smart technologies enable the gathering of very precise, accurate information about soil, weather, pests, etc. The more information that is available, the better prepared farmers are, which leads to higher production and less waste.

And, of course, it all leads to more jobs. Current farmers may not have much tech background, so that’s where job creation comes in. Engineers, software developers and other tech experts are needed to implement industry-changing applications both on small farms and within larger agricultural corporations.

“If you are a technology buff, ag equipment manufacturing and the development and creation of products used on the farm is the place to be today,” O’Brien said.

Among applications for 3D printing we’ve already seen emerge in farming communities are such creations as 3Dponics’ urban farming systems, a 3D printed drone that can monitor crops, a way to test crop seeding systems, Food Rising’s mini-farm grow box system, and even a 3D printed insect trap to ward off damage to crops. With awareness rising of the benefits high-tech solutions can bring to traditional agricultural problems, it seems clear we’re bound to see more convergence. Tell us your thoughts on the benefits of these applications in the 3D Printing and Agriculture forum over at 3DPB.com.

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