Mark Rieger is the dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources and believes it is important that the school has combined the two disciplines, the better to create a strong relationship between them. He answered some questions on the current agricultural climate and its future.
In your “Message from the Dean,” you talk about doubling agricultural yields without using more land and water. How does that happen?
We need to use smart machines, like driverless tractors that are guided by GPS. We need to find chemical inputs that turn nature against the things trying to eat crops and find more genetic engineering. What we can’t do is plow down more land.
Where are the biggest challenges for this?
We’re fine in this country, but the biggest problems are in Africa and Latin America, where the average family size is six. Can we find the technology that is appropriate for that land?
What type of technology is being used now?
It’s about precision agriculture, using smartphone apps to help farmers and their machinery. Those tractors that are hooked up to GPS are also collecting data as they go along to make yield maps. There’s a wealth of big data about what’s happening on a 1,000-acre farm. The machines are not just plowing; they are trying to optimize.
How does the innovation affect consumers?
Take GMOs (genetically optimized organisms). Nobody trusts them, but 90 percent of scientists say they are OK, and the FDA does too. We have to get past some of the issues involving how GMOs are perceived.
This article appeared in the premiere issue of Delaware Innovation Magazine, an overview of the state’s cutting edge industries and the people leading them. See the whole issue here.