I have a talented friend in Silicon Valley who toiled for years as a project manager at Netflix. A few months ago though, her role with the company ended, like tens of thousands of others in the hi-tech sector.
Few opportunities in conventional venues exist there now, and her future is uncertain.
But maybe I’ll be seeing her at a farm show.
Reuters news service reports this week that hi-tech casualties like my friend are getting snapped up by progressively minded farm equipment and construction companies far from technology hubs like Silicon Valley.
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Hi-tech production equipment is becoming more complex, more expensive and more popular, particularly as farm labour supplies continue to dwindle and farmers look to alternatives like autonomous or “smart” vehicles.
Manufacturers are trying to recoup their research and development investment, which at least for now includes humans in some level of lab bench work and project management. That’s where Silicon Valley ex-employees come in, with highly specific skill sets and a proven ability to make technology widely usable and available.
They know little if anything about farming. But they can learn. The key is they know technology, and like it or not, that’s where labour-intensive agriculture is headed, maybe even faster now that a whack of hi-tech talent that was previously distanced from agriculture is available.
Remote work might further move this phenomenon along. Reuters notes that major agricultural equipment companies – many of which are located in areas where ex-Silicon Valley residents would consider off the beaten track – are opening offices in cities with urban cultural appeal, like Chicago and Austin.
And even remote work is getting a look. Traditionally, equipment companies and others have wanted their employees onsite. That’s a bit like farming itself – farmers don’t work remotely, and it’s not part of their culture. For the most part, they’re used to dealing with real people in onsite shops and dealerships. But maybe that’s poised for change.
And how about the way agriculture has taken a position at high-profile, non-farm events like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas?
There, far from sounds and smells of the farm, companies like John Deere have rolled out state-of-the-art gear to impress shareholders more than farmers. Introducing its hi-tech offerings there to potential employees is a clever, added bonus. But maybe Deere saw it coming for years.
Agriculture is no stranger to recruitment challenges, although it’s not usually hi-tech positions that are being unfilled. With this latest development, recruiters are looking for workers to create machines to replace other workers. That’s ironic.
And it’s all further to the ultimate irony that consumers trust farmers but not technology. Consumers have been conditioned to associate technology with the likes of products such as pesticides and herbicides, and biotechnology. That sounds menacing to them, and therefore so does technology.
It’s not. It’s necessary, and it’s what most modern farmers are using to produce our food. We accept robotics and technology in sectors such as transportation where our very lives are on the line every time we put our vehicle in gear and go barreling down the highway. So isn’t it time to take another look at technology’s role in food production?