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Time to Get Your Nerd On

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This week the new Star Wars movie hits theatres; and, just as the original movie, it is going to be a blockbuster. Reports indicate that tickets for the first two weeks of the film’s release have already been sold out. Yes, when it comes to science, action, and technology, we love a great adventure.  Yet, if I were to suggest there was just as much science, technology, mystery, and a strange force taking place on farms today, I would have few believers. However, it is true, and at stake is something far more important than saving the galaxy from the dark side.

At a recent meeting in Indianapolis, leaders from agriculture, life sciences, and technology gathered to talk about innovation. What made this meeting unique is that these groups rarely get together or communicate in any meaningful way.  “We in agriculture spent most of our time talking to ourselves,” said Julie Borlaug, the keynote speaker at the meeting and granddaughter of Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug.  She pointed out that the solution to solving world hunger and increasing food production to feed a growing world population would not come from agriculture alone, but only as a collaborative effort between many sectors including biological and chemical engineers, robotic experts, and computer scientists. In other words, we need some farm nerds.

While some of these folks may come from within our ag community, many will not. Frankly, that is a good thing. I would postulate that those from outside ag would have the most innovative ideas because they are going to look at food production and distribution in a totally different way.

The problem is: how do we attract this talent to the field of agriculture?  One way is to make food production as exciting as Star Wars. Preposterous you say? We already have prototypes of R2D2-type droids that can run through a field zapping insects they detect. Drones fly overhead watching for invading insects or scanning crops for disease. All kinds of amazing activity is taking place at the molecular level in both plants and animals. Then, there is control of the weather, and that mysterious force known as nature.  Perhaps the next mission for Luke, Han, and Leia should be saving the galactic food supply.

Of course, every good adventure story needs a quest. The quest for agriculture is to fight hunger and poverty. Young people often are looking for a cause and a way to make a difference in the world. Agriculture could provide both.

The key, however, is for those of us in agriculture to communicate all this to those outside of agriculture.  Our colleges of ag must connect with other schools on campus to share the opportunities that exist in agriculture. This does not mean they need to become ag majors, but simply to collaborate with those in ag on projects and programs that require their technical skills and point of view.

So, power up your light sword and head into the world of nerds to find some technological and scientific minds who want to partner with some aggies to feed the world — and may the force be with you.

By Gary Truitt