SYRACUSE, NY — “They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast,” said the Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s fabled environmentalist.
At the March, NOFA-NY Organic Dairy and Field Crop Conference, organic grain farmer and respected thinker, Klaas Martens of Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan led a lively discussion on what constitutes appropriate technology that has progressed so much so, it threatens to displace the farmer it’s supposed to help. “We have ethical decisions to make when considering the technology choices,” said Martens.
Martens presented on precision agriculture, site specific crop management, GPS systems, consumer verification tools and introduced farmers to an incredible array of optical operated planters and cultivators moving a 100 times faster than the human hand. “The useful technology for conventional and organic methods center around weed identification, soil health measurements, planning and modeling, IPM, labor needs and sharing knowledge with other farmers around the world,” said Martens. “We’ve come a long way in our precision organics by adding specialized equipment, crop diversity, beneficial insects and management strategies.”
He described how his 100-year old seed cleaner won’t help them with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) regulations in producing food grade products because the quality tolerances are so stringent. “At this moment companies are making optical monitors and sorters that can pick out the “perfect” grain and can guarantee quality to the buyer consistently at a lower price. It’s hard for us to compete in this emerging market. We need newer technology and better internet, other than dial-up, to support such a venture,” concluded Martens.
“Technology tools are neutral; people who have the control have enormous power. It’s no longer the commodity that has the power — it’s the technology. We are in a whole different world. We think open source sharing of information protected in the public domain would level the playing field,” said Klaas. He referenced Moore’s Law in how fast computer technology is moving. The computing term, which originated around 1970, states that processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers, will double every two years. A quick check among technicians in different computer companies shows that the term is not very popular but the rule is still accepted.
Technology in the marketplace has skyrocketed, as witnessed at Amazon, with customers capable of scanning labels and verifying sources and farming practices right from their iPhones. “Even though there is a great push for this ‘just in time’ information, people still want a relationship and connection to their food system and farmer,” emphasized Martens. The NY Times article chronicling customers demand for a domestic food supply was a game changer.
“Even though technology is now an integral part of our organic food production practices, we have to remind ourselves as farmers that intellectual knowledge and observation is a precision tool too,” said Martens.