James Schnable (copy)

Within the next five years, UNL associate professor James Schnable hopes to develop a system that will make the watering corn easier and more affordable. And also make more corn available to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050.

Researchers in Nebraska and Iowa are jointly developing a “fitbit for corn” to help manage water use more efficiently. That innovative project, described in recent World-Herald reporting, is just one example of how advanced technology is transforming modern agriculture in remarkable ways, with much more expected to come.

Technology-enabled advances in field monitoring, data analysis and resource use offer important long-term opportunities for agricultural producers. Universities and private-sector companies in Nebraska and Iowa are providing major support for the research.

These advances run a broad gamut: GPS technology enables precision guidance of farm equipment and is standard throughout the ag sector. Irrigators can monitor and in some cases move their center pivots via smartphone. Satellite imagery supports today’s “precision agriculture” techniques. “Big data” analysis of sensor data help producers study crop yields, soil mapping, fertilizer application and animal health. Farmers and ranches have new technologies to track cattle and crop shipments.

The ag-tech list a decade from now surely will be even more far-ranging and striking.

Well-known ag firm Pioneer touts its software by saying it gives a producer “the tools to meet challenges across your entire operation to maximize yield with data-driven crop models; improve teamwork efficiency and communication; measure profit down to the field-level; and simplify farmland research and transactions.”

Nebraska provides informative events for ag producers to learn about emerging technologies. One example is the well-attended irrigation workshops at the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. Another is the annual Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, set this year for Sept. 10-12. The vendors will include 11 exhibitors from the computer/software sector.

Nebraska business leaders rightly identify value-added agribusiness as a niche the state should focus on to strengthen its economic development. Nebraska can already point to notable successes in ag tech, including these:

» iNet Solutions Group is an Omaha-based developer of agriculture-related desktop and website applications and mobile app development.

» GrainBridge Corp., also in Omaha, provides agricultural risk management software used widely throughout the ag sector.

» Quantified Ag, in Lincoln, has created a biometric ear tag that helps feedlot operators keep closer watch over animals.

Advanced agricultural technology is attracting significant venture capital investment worldwide — the total has increased more than eightfold since 2013. Last year, such investment totaled $16.9 billion. Of that, $6.9 billion was for technologies directly affecting production agriculture, marketplace operations and food innovations.

In higher education, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State University are in the forefront of many ag-tech advances. The world-class greenhouse facility at NU’s Innovation Campus, for example, is the site for research into the “fitbit for corn.”

High-tech advances are opening up impressive new benefits for agriculture. The Midlands is well positioned to benefit from this progress.

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