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Why Good Is Good Enough When It Comes to New Ag Tech – Growing Produce

New agricultural technology can be absolutely fascinating, but I’m really interested in it because 1) It can help growers be more profitable, and 2) I like to fool around with cool new stuff.
Not very professional, No. 2, I know, but frankly it’s easier to find cool new stuff than it is to find new technology that will obviously help growers become more profitable.
Numerous fruit growers I talk to lament the fact that a lot of agricultural technology is developed for Midwest program crop growers and not for specialty crop growers. I get it. There’s plenty more acreage of those crops, and new product developers stand to make a lot more money. Of course, revenue from an acre of almonds or strawberries would dwarf that of corn or soybeans, but that’s a topic for another day.
Lately though, I’ve been hearing another associated complaint about such products: They’re not field ready. It is extraordinarily difficult to implement a lot of new technology in agriculture because the pressure of execution outdoors is vexing.
This is easily understandable because scientists have a heavy lab-based orientation. However, the goals sought in the laboratory might be widely different — often much loftier — than what would be completely acceptable to growers grasping for answers. As one grower put it so eloquently: Don’t make perfect be the enemy of the good.
The problem is many scientists haven’t spent enough time out in the field to see how fruit growers operate. For instance, they might not realize one key problem can be the lack of technological sophistication on the farm at the level in which the application would be utilized.
The farm employees who might be tasked with using a given product might only have a high school education, which needs to be considered. In addition, they are out in the field dealing with an often-challenging environment. Product developers shouldn’t expect these employees to do a complicated procedure in the field, at least not with precision.
Interestingly, another factor is that if the product does work, it needs to be something that works on a large scale, a sentiment I have heard often.
The developers’ attitude is understandable. Scientists are extraordinarily competitive, and in development, they want to see how perfect they can make it.
But time spent in the field is critical. For one thing, there is nothing wrong with incremental improvements, and the way you get there is incredibly valuable. The grand idea that works in a lab and will instantly solve all a grower’s problems? Likely a fantasy.
The key is that when bringing a product to the field, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
If it works at all, you can aim for improvement, knowing it is field-tested. If you have something that can help fruit growers, by all means, do some field testing. I have to say, I have been told by several growers that they are tired of being guinea pigs, so go forth only when ready for the field.
But by all means, do go forth. The industry can use all the great new technology it can get. And a lot of these fruit growers are nice, honest people who will give you a fair shake. Best of luck, and don’t forget that for a grower struggling for help with something or other, good is often good enough.
David Eddy is the editor of Meister Media Worldwide’s American Fruit Grower® and Western Fruit Grower® magazines. See all author stories here.
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