Welcome to the revolution

Advances in agricultural research 
are happening at a ‘dizzying’ pace

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The world is in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, and agriculture will be one of the big beneficiaries, according to a person at the forefront of the revolution.

“It’s an age of technological change and advancement unlike any other,” said Adrian Percy, global head of research and development with Bayer.

“It can be a little bit confusing and dizzying.”

Percy told delegates attending Bayer’s AgVocacy forum that the three previous revolutions freed mankind from animal power, made mass production possible and digitalized manufacturing.

“This revolution is different, it is fundamentally different,” he said.

“It’s marked by technological advances that are merging the physical, the digital and the biological worlds.”

The revolution is being driven by extreme automation and connectivity.

“It is being enabled by virtually free computer power and virtually unlimited bandwidth, and those two things are making the incredible possible,” said Percy.

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“It is a force of nature that has burst forth a shower of information.”

Another hallmark of the fourth industrial revolution is the unprecedented speed of breakthroughs.

For instance, the cost of sequencing the human genome started off at $100 million in 2001. Today, such a sequence would cost only $1,000 per genome.

There has also been a huge reduction in the cost of sequencing plant genomes, which is assisting in new crop breeding techniques such as gene editing.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that what’s known as the internet of things, which is the interconnection of machines and devices, will increase agricultural productivity by 70 percent by 2050.

“This fourth industrial revolution is going to be essential for the revolution of agriculture and that is absolutely necessary,” said Percy.

He said information is gold to farmers and can make the difference between an abundant harvest and a crop failure.

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Percy said 70 to 80 percent of new farm equipment is enabled for precision agriculture.

That is why one of the assets that made Monsanto an intriguing takeover target for Bayer is Climate Corp., which manages weather, soil and field data for farmers.

Monsanto bought the company founded by two Google alumni in 2013, and now Bayer is attempting to buy Monsanto.

Agriculture is even starting to garner attention in California’s Silicon Valley, said Ben Chostner, vice-president of business development with Blue River Technology, a California company that builds sprayers that apply chemicals only where needed.

Nobody in Silicon Valley was even remotely interested in agriculture five years ago, but companies such as Blue River Technology now have no problem recruiting workers.

“We find a lot of traction with people who are tired of helping people click on ads,” Chostner said.

“They want to tell their grandchildren about how they spent their career trying to make the world a better place.”

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