Lowell Catlett

Lowell Catlett

LOVINGTON, Ill. — Lowell Catlett has a message for those in agriculture who wonder how far automation on the farm will go.

“Get ready for the robotics revolution,” he told growers at a Wyffels Hybrids event here. “You’re going to see a revolution in robotics that you never thought possible.”

Catlett, a professor, ag economist and former dean at New Mexico State University, provided an entertaining look at the future of farming. The technological train is not slowing down.

Millennials are much more comfortable with rapidly advancing robotics than older generations, he believes. Surveys bear that out.

“Sixty percent believe that in the near future, they will be replaced by robots,” he said. “My generation says, ‘Oh, they’re going to take over our jobs! What are we going to do?’ But (millennials) didn’t cry. They said, ‘We want to own that robot that’s going to take our jobs, and maybe two or three others.’”

The Green Revolution and agricultural advances that followed have greatly improved the world’s quality of life. That often gets lost on the public, Catlett said.

“The number of people living in abject poverty has gone from 2 billion 10 years ago to 750 million today,” Catlett said. “That’s still too many. But it’s the fastest growth in recorded history. When you read in the press that we can’t produce enough food, guess what? We already do produce enough for 10 billion people.”

Catlett serves as a cheerleader for farmers and the ag industry, which is sometimes vilified by elements of the media and public for genetically modified plants and confinement livestock production.

He said that with 1970 technology, the entire land mass of Canada, the United States and China would have to be cultivated to produce 3,200 calories daily for the modern world’s population of 7.5 billion.

“That would be every acre — coast to coast, top to bottom,” he said. “But no, it’s not in agriculture, it’s in trees and marshlands. It’s not only the best time to be alive if you’re a human; it’s the best time to be alive if you’re a duck.

“We have 100 times more deer in the United States than 100 years ago. You’re not only producing food in abundance for more people than ever in history, you’re allowing the ecological miracle with cleaner streams and better habitat for wildlife than at any time in history. And most of you are stewards of that land. You are the backbone of this phenomenal revolution. It’s the greatest story that needs to be told.”

Catlett said that the current generation of farmers is the first that is comfortable hiring a professional to make sure they make the right decisions on agronomic practices such as hybrid selection, fertilizer application and equipment use.

The success of modern agriculture has allowed growers to produce specialty foods on a large scale.

“They’re going to move the curve,” he said. “All of a sudden in America you have organic corn and organic soybeans, free-range cattle, free-range chickens and other things.”

The changing use of horses is one example of how technology has eased life.

“We have more horses than we did in 1904, when my grandmother was born,” Catlett said. “And they did all the work. Now they don’t do anything. They don’t pull us up and down; we pull them up and down the road.

“This generation has more money, and they’re thoroughly changing rural America.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.