Vantage Point: How technology will help feed a hungry world

Jeff Schick, Global Segment Director, Agriculture and Forestry, Eaton Corp. Cleveland, Ohio

In 15 years, 9 billion people will go to bed each night either hungry or well fed depending largely on how well the world’s farmers respond to the unprecedented challenges of today. Here’s the scope of the hurdles facing the global agriculture industry:

Produce twice as much food from 20% less land per capita and still provide feed stocks for increased biofuel production.

Produce less of our food as grain and more of it as animal protein to meet the demands of increasingly affluent and urban consumers.

Do it with less water, less fuel, less fertilizer, and less-skilled operators.

Meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations every step of the way.

Do it in ways that are sustainable.

Meeting these challenges will require farmers across the globe to become more productive. Everything from tractors, combines, and planters to all of the specialized equipment that supports dairy and livestock operations, orchards, vineyards, and the production of vegetables, will have to be reexamined, repurposed, and redesigned to make them more efficient.

Many solutions will be familiar because they are extensions of technologies we use today. Genetically modified plants and animals, computers, wireless communication, global-positioning systems, clean diesel power, autonomous vehicles, precision agriculture, robotics and, last but not least, hydraulics.

Hydraulics — and especially electrohydraulics, the marriage of hydraulics and electronics — will play a key role in many solutions. Electrohydraulic technology combines the power density of hydraulics with the intelligence of electronics to deliver real muscle in small, efficient packages with the kind of control that used to be available only from electric servos.

Put that together on a tractor with a GPS receiver and onboard computer and you have something that can minimize the time, fuel, fertilizer, seed, and everything else needed to produce a crop. With a human being driving the tractor, there is unavoidable waste in all of these inputs because a person just can’t make perfectly touching passes hour after hour, day after day.

But a computer guided by GPS technology can. And with electrohydraulics doing the heavy lifting by controlling the vehicle and implements, farmers can increase output and lower costs. In a world that needs more food from less land every year that’s very big news, and it can be done today.

In fact, it is being done today, just not enough to make a major difference — yet.

The same sort of intelligent systems will be needed to control animal-feeding systems, orchards, and vegetable-growing operations. It also is applicable to irrigation valves, gates, sprayers, and other equipment. The days of simply pumping water on the ground and hoping for the best are over.

It all boils down to doing more with less through the efficient, intelligent management of power, which is what electrohydraulics delivers. And make no mistake, doing more with less is the name of the game in agriculture from here on out. MD

Edited by Kenneth J. Korane

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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