Where’s my flying car?

If you’re in your 40s, like me, you are of that unique bridge generation that remembers life with a landline phone and cartoons only on Saturday mornings. We got our first email addresses in college, and learned to text by carefully pressing the number keys on a Nokia until we got the letters to spell actual words. We know the sound of a fax machine, a modem dial-up, and the THX sound card before movies about as well as we know our own mother’s voice.

We were no “digital natives”—more like “digital refugee immigrants.” Us Gen X and Gen Y kids had to get smart pretty fast. Because technology wasn’t going to wait for us to catch up and our parents had questions about the TV remote that couldn’t wait for younger siblings and cousins to explain.

Sure, we watched KITT the talking Firebird but we never imagined that we’d have cars and trucks with brains like we do today. We watched Star Trek re-runs but we never thought we’d own “pocket communicators” and now we call them our smartphones.

When I graduated high school in 1996, ag scientists had just released Roundup Ready soybeans, which revolutionized production methods. When I graduated from college in 2000, just 20 years ago, the geniuses at John Deere were tinkering with the precursor to AutoTrac, and would put it into production two years later. In 2010, Steve Jobs gave us the iPad, a tablet computer that provided a platform for software developers to give us apps that would run everything from center pivots, to helping market crops, to pinpointing the weather on that section in the next county that you were worried about getting rain.

Today, it’s 2020, and while cars can’t fly, yet, we have autonomous tractors that can operate in fields and semi-trucks that can drive themselves. When we give the right minds enough time and enough resources and then stand back there’s no telling what they can do.

Now, there are those who argue that progress is running over the little guy. Maybe that’s so. Who is to say if all of this technology is better or worse? It all depends on your point of view and your pocketbook. If you’re a consumer, you likely just want to know that the food you buy in the store is safe and nutritious at a price point you can afford. If you’re a banker or rural businessman, you probably just care that the equipment brings efficiency to the farm and reduces costs of production so that dollars stay in the community. And, if you’re that little guy, you may wonder what your place in the future might be if you can’t keep up with the changes.

At every fork in the road of advancements in the last 40 years of my lifetime, there were those who forecasted doom and woe with the new technology. We’ve got entire organizations devoted to the cause of pulling the reins on progress—be it genetically modified crops, or livestock operations, or “chemicals.” There will always be those who drag heels and don’t want change, even if it could lead to efficient use of inputs, or reduced costs of production, or even an easier day of labor.

Considering what my generation of 40-somethings has seen in our lifetime, and how those advancements have changed our life trajectories, I’m curious as to what 2020 and beyond holds for us in agriculture.

And I really do hope that flying cars aren’t that too far off.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].