Chuck Robinson, assistant copy chiefDrones and high-tech local production are the hallmarks of what Clare Hasler-Lewis, executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California-Davis, envisions as the future of agriculture.
She drew a succint picture of what she sees in the crystal ball in a column in the July 8 Wall Street Journal. The newspaper was celebrating its 125th anniversary with a section of futuristic pipedreaming.
Drones I get. Here in the Midwest we have a former Kansas State University professor who left academia to join RoboFlight, a Denver-based company that sells drones and analyzes data for field crops.
Drones cruise fields and operators use the data to figure out if crops need pesticides. Some of our staff at Vance Publishing Corporation, parent company of The Packer, have witnessed them in action.
Hasler-Lewis sees the role of drones expanding beyond field crop management.
“Soon, we’ll have networks of sensors that detect moisture in the ground or on plants themselves and transmit their data to drones, which are poised to become farming’s new intelligence-gathering tool of choice,” she wrote.
She quotes the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (there is an association for everything, isn’t there?) saying in 10 years 80% of commercial drones will be used in agriculture.
Mike Hornick, staff writer for The Packer, wrote in April about attending a Web seminar covering these topics. He warned drones could be taking over analysis as well as monitoring fields, taking the employee out of the equation.
I believe it. The drones are coming.
However, it surprised me that Hasler-Lewis envisions a time when production of fresh fruits and vegetables is highly decentralized. She works near and with the industry in “The Salad Bowl of the World” in Salinas, Calif., but she sees that nickname eventually becoming outdated.
“I can envision a future where every community purchases its produce from its one vertical farm — taking ‘locally grown’ to a whole new level,” she wrote.
The thought has crossed my mind before. Recently, Urban Produce LLC, Irvine, Calif., announded having developed the High Density Vertical Growing System, a patented hydroponic alternative to traditional vegetable production.