What Does Arizona Agriculture’s Future Look Like? “I have been asked many times in the last few years, ‘What does the future look like for Arizona agriculture?’” says Arizona Farm Bureau President and southern Arizona Rancher Stefanie Smallhouse. “I don’t really know what it will look like 30 or 50 years from now. But what I do know is that whatever it looks like, it will be a shining example to the rest of the world.  We will innovate and persist even in challenging times.”  

In a speech to Arizona Farm Bureau’s agricultural members, she further added, “Arizona’s farmers and ranchers will be battle tested and will be the children and grandchildren of all of us today. They will be successful because we have shown them how to keep going and thrive despite their circumstances. It depends on our response today!” 

With a theme of “Arizona Agriculture’s Future,” the most recent Rosie on the House radio show featured President Smallhouse’s encouraging words and highlighted Guest farmer Ed Curry’s resilience in his own family farming practices. And, they emphasized that technology in all its forms can help get us there (the entire radio show without commercial breaks is embedded below). 


Considering the Importance of Agricultural Technology

Farmers no longer must apply water, fertilizers, and pesticides uniformly across entire fields. Instead, they can use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas, or even treat individual plants differently. Benefits highlighted by USDA include:

  • Higher crop productivity
  • Decreased use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides, which in turn keeps food prices down.
  • Reduced impact on natural ecosystems
  • Less runoff of chemicals into rivers and groundwater
  • Increased worker safety

In addition, robotic technologies enable more reliable monitoring and management of natural resources, such as air and water quality. It also gives producers greater control over plant and animal production, processing, distribution, and storage, which results in:

  • Greater efficiencies and lower prices
  • Safer growing conditions and safer foods
  • Reduced environmental and ecological impact.


Highlighting the Various Areas of Agricultural Technology

Seed Technology

  • Hybridized seed to develop certain traits.
  • Biotech seed (GMO).
  • Often improved traits were developed to resist pests and weeds. Today, we have Golden Rice with beta-carotene, vitamin A, built into it to prevent blindness in young children, especially in developing countries. 
  • As more research is done, see development technology only gets better.
  • Plus, we have better preservation of some of our ancient foods, like ancient grains. Tepary bean, native to our Native American tribes is one example. 

Robotics and Sensing Technology

Crop monitoring and livestock monitoring are taking on a whole new level of innovation.

  • Greenhouses devoted to fruit and vegetable production, engineers are exploring automation to reduce costs and boost quality. 
  • Devices to monitor vegetable growth, as well as robotic pickers, are currently being tested in both the UK and America (could eventually solve agriculture’s labor shortage crisis). 
  • For livestock producers, sensing technologies can help to manage the health and welfare of their animals.
  • Sensors and monitors are being designed to improve monitoring and maintenance of soil quality. 
  • Although some of these technologies are already available, most are at the research stage in labs and spin-off companies.
  • In Yuma, you can find a big black box (looks like an oversized refrigerator) going down rows of early-growth produce looking for weeds, and when found the unwanted plant is zapped and killed with a laser. 
  • Drones and robotics can be used to detect pest infestations and target specific pesticide applications. 20 to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests. 

One Tech Example: Boulder, Colorado-based agriculture data analysis company Agribotix, supplies drones and software that use near-infrared images to map patches of unhealthy vegetation in large fields. Images can also reveal potential causes, such as pests or problems with irrigation. The company processes drone data from crop fields in more than 50 countries. 


  • Look at the tractor today versus 100 years ago.
  • Autonomous tractors. We were autonomous when autonomous wasn’t cool. 
  • Some in agriculture have commented that sometimes too much technology is built into new systems.
  • New Memorandum of Understanding spearheaded by the American Farm Bureau Federation with the major manufacturers that ensures farmers’ and ranchers’ Right to repair their own equipment.
  • Farmers are always in partnership with the smaller dealers/manufacturers and often can customize a piece of equipment to maximize efficiency on a particular farm. 

Irrigation Technology

  • Pivot
  • Siphon
  • Soil probes for soil moisture
  • Drip
  • Sprinkler systems

Agriculture’s connected future: Agriculture’s technology future: How connectivity can yield new growth | McKinsey

A white paper from McKinsey and Company shows that all this technology must be underpinned by a connected future. 

“Now, agriculture is in the early days of yet another revolution, at the heart of which lie data and connectivity. Artificial intelligence, analytics, connected sensors, and other emerging technologies could further increase yields, improve the efficiency of water and other inputs, and build sustainability and resilience across crop cultivation and animal husbandry,” said the paper’s authors. 

We do have a way to go and perhaps the next generation will be pivotal in making these systems easier to use. Says a former agriculture producer and marketing and brand management professional, Robyn Lawson, “To put it simply, I think -- and this is predominantly in remote sensing and the software space -- no one has taken the time to create "the easy button." Right now, growers log in to five to 10-plus software systems almost every day - between operating their daily farm activities and paying bills. A few of those software systems "talk to each other" streamlining some of the process, but overall, it is cumbersome to log in to multiple platforms. And when you log in, there is still some interpretation of data that must occur for the grower to take action on their farm. Think of it like we have the who, the what, where, and when -- but we don't have the “why” estimate to be able to take action.”

 Arizona agriculture’s future presents great opportunities while surmounting all its challenges. But as Smallhouse suggests, we will persevere.