Innovation should plant seeds across all industries

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We rely on innovation to change our lives, but we tend to think about what it means for phones or the internet, not farmland.

Just as we rely on innovation to help us meet our future needs, we should also look towards innovation to help our agricultural communities keep up with changing demands. Historically, we have prevented issues such as potato blight, increased the nutritional value of rice and other grains, and met consumers’ constantly evolving needs through the use of science and innovation. As we face new challenges in feeding the world, we need to continue to turn our focus towards supporting innovation in agriculture.

As agriculture is Montana’s largest industry, it is something that we must not only protect, but also strive to strengthen and grow. While many Montanans are closely watching how our leaders in Washington will reform health care, taxes and trade policies, we should also focus on what we know will make a positive difference in agriculture: innovation.

Farmers and ranchers face many challenges — some expected and some that come as a surprise. While the obvious challenges include climate shifts and perpetual pest problems, there are many other issues including loss of agricultural land, changes in soil, and a concern that family farms won’t be taken care of by the next generation. Unfortunately, we can’t always mitigate unforeseen problems, like unpredictable weather. As some Montanans may remember, a few years ago rain and hail spread Ascochyta blight, a terrible fungus, across the 500,000 acres of Montana’s pulse crops.

Farmers aren’t in this alone — scientists and researchers are working to figure out longer-term solutions for unpredictable weather and pests, among other challenges. Just as better tractors helped farmers cover more ground following World War II, recent innovations have allowed farmers to grow more efficiently — producing bigger crop yields on less acreage.

We’re already building the foundation for modern farming through numerous innovations. This includes everything from water-saving irrigation systems to improving the nutritional quality of wheat to understanding better farm management practices. For instance, the USDA patented recent technology to ensure crops only get as much water as they need by using a system of sensors and an algorithm to figure out where and how much to irrigate. This revolutionary technology will save farmers headaches while also protecting our environment.

These types of innovations have helped farmers in Montana produce more crops efficiently and be more profitable.

Unfortunately, the scientists and researchers working on the next big solutions in agriculture hit roadblocks when they can’t combine their resources. In today’s environment, agricultural companies can spend over a decade researching and developing new technologies and spend millions of dollars before a product even materializes. In addition, the industry is heavily regulated by multiple agencies — placing a regulatory burden on companies that is easier to bear once companies combine resources.

This can be solved by agricultural companies coming together to work in partnership and put the smartest minds together working towards the same goal. This cuts down on research and development times and costs and helps get farmers the solutions they need faster.

With the Bayer–Monsanto and Dow–Dupont mergers on the horizon, the agricultural community should consider the impact these will have from every angle. We want to ensure any partnerships in the industry ultimately lead to greater benefits for farmers, ranchers and consumers.

Innovation should lead to better tools for protecting crops against pests and weather, more accurate forecasts of annual yields and the ability to run a more efficient operation. We would never say no to the latest smartphone innovation — so let’s do the same for new technologies and innovations that can impact our livelihoods and agriculture businesses.

?Bruce Tutvedt, of the West Valley, is a former Republican state senator.?

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