Enjoy the cherries while you can, birds!

Is Sam Simpson a cherry farmer or a movie director?

At TC New Tech on Tuesday, Sam painted a vivid picture of a not-so-distant future. A future where birds don’t eat his cherries anymore. The cherries still taste good — better than ever, in fact. But in this version of the future, Sam’s cherry trees have an ally that can fly, too.

Picture this — a surveillance camera at the edge of the cherry orchard spots a bird threatening the cherry trees. It detects what type of bird this is and sends a signal to the level one defense system. A speaker at the top of a pole starts playing the sounds of this type of bird in distress.

Lesser birds might avoid the area when they hear the distress call, but this bird won’t be deterred so easily. It knows how tasty those cherries are, and it wants to wet its beak. Literally.

The surveillance camera can sense that the bird’s flight path hasn’t changed. Time to fire up level two defenses. Level two is the best level. If a surveillance system could get excited, this one would be tingling right now.

A drone takes off from its charging pad and slowly gains altitude. It heads off in the direction of the camera that saw the bird. Fifteen seconds later, the drone spots the intruder and makes a beeline for its target. Its blades are whirring and its speaker is playing threatening noises.

The bird may have been brave, but it’s not sticking around to mess with whatever this thing is.

The drone chases the intruder off the property and hovers over the property line, taunting the bird, daring it to come back. If it could speak, it would be quoting Terminator 2: “hasta la vista, baby”.


Ag Tech Night: An Eye Opener for This City Slicker

Inspiring as Sam’s vision was, Sam’s presentation partners Isaiah Wunsch and Nels Veliquette actually provided my biggest lightbulb moment from the meetup this week. (And I’ll admit up front — my lightbulb moment makes me look like an elitist snob. Or at best naive. Try to forgive me.)

Isaiah grows honey crisp apples. He apples as big as a pound — which grocery chains love to buy. He could also grow snack-sized apples anytime he wanted. And he’d be happy to, if the grocery chains would buy them.

Nels owns and operates a family of businesses related to growing and processing cherries.

As a person who makes his living in front of a keyboard, I’d been prepared for Ag Tech to be boring and unrelatable. Thanks to Isaiah and Nels, it was neither. When they described the challenges they had running a profitable growing operation, they both casually mentioned the same thing. Like it was no big deal.

They were constantly having challenges with data…

Imagine that! Just like any other business, fruit growers have multiple computer systems generating reams upon reams of data. And just like any other business, they don’t have time to dig into it as deeply or as efficiently as they’d like.

Farmers in 2018 aren’t anticipating the weather based on a feeling in their bones — they are looking at the same computer forecasts I am when I decide whether to drive or ride my bike to work. (But the farmers care a lot more.)

Farmers in 2018 aren’t pinching the dirt between their fingers to analyze growing conditions — they are taking soil samples and chlorophyll meter readings with the Photosynq MultispeQ and leveraging machine learning from thousands of farmers around the world to optimize their yields.

Farmers in 2018 are commissioning attack drones to keep birds out of their cherry trees!

Technology is permeating every industry, even the ones I don’t interact with directly. And with every new piece of technology comes data that needs analysis. That’s my Aha! (and also Duh!) moment. Moore’s law and Metcalfe’s law are giving me job security in ways I couldn’t even imagine.


Overcoming farm prejudice, one Tech meetup at a time

Clearly I have a narrow worldview, thanks to living in cities and working in Tech most of my adult life. I’d spent so little time thinking about farming that it never occurred to me that farmers are CEOs too, and like any CEO, farmers need data to make good decisions.

What about you? Who have you misjudged recently? Write a comment below. Bonus points if you were so moved you took a selfie with the person who surprised you!

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