In any area, people continually discuss (argue?) over the best or greatest. We trot out statistics and arguments, call on experts for their opinions, poll the public and spend a great deal of time in the debate. There are yearly, decade, century, and as 2000 approached even millennial lists. Examining our everyday lives, the media has and continues to debate what inventions and innovations have had the greatest effect on our everyday lives. The agricultural community is no exception, as in many ways it has experienced a more accelerated rate of change than society in general and often adopted technologies later commonplace in society.
In agriculture the debate over what has had the greatest impact in increasing yields, efficiency, food safety, and food quality; conserving resources; and allowing the production of commodities at levels unimagined, even thirty years ago, by less than three percent of the population is more than just a topic of conversation. The debate is waged in the hearing rooms of Congress, the USDA, and on land grant university campuses. The winners of each debate receive more funding for their programs. The losers often have funding levels decreased or even have programs eliminated, especially as funding at all levels continues to decrease. If you could go back in twenty year increments and look at the makeup of the faculty and the research focus at K-State, you would be amazed at the change in focus and technology over the last century. So what is (are) the greatest innovation(s) in agricultural? For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the last fifty or so years. There is inadequate space for completeness, opinions will vary, these are not in any order and meant to provoke thought more than anything else.
· Development of pesticides, particularly selective herbicides, reducing not only crop damage and increasing yield but allowing for reductions in tillage
· Computer technology – this has impacted every aspect of agriculture from equipment to marketing. There aren’t mechanics anymore but instead technicians who spend more time learning the computer systems running farm equipment than the actual mechanics. Every aspect of agriculture relies extensively on computers from record keeping to GPS to variable-rate technologies.
· Communication changes and social media – I-Phones, I-Pads, Droids, and social media have all dramatically impacted every aspect of agriculture. Producers can monitor and send instructions to irrigation systems, check prices on the web, and many other tasks. People in agribusiness can conduct business 24/7 from anywhere and are never out of touch. Alerts, warnings, and information can be disseminated instantaneously. Social media are used to bash and support agriculture as well as keep in touch. This and the previous point have virtually eliminated the isolation of the farming community both socially and in many ways economically.
· International interconnections – agriculture in our country, both negatively and positively, must cope with the international agricultural community. This is both an actual and potential market for our production and an actual and potential competitor for those markets. It also exists as a potential threat in terms of pest introduction.
· Finally, the whole world of genetic engineering and GMO crops. While both sides debate the merits of this development, no one can deny the impact it has had on our agricultural complex.
Many more items could be added but this hopefully gets you thinking about the topic. To all, have a safe and enjoyable thanksgiving.