By Hana Medina
DEEP IN NEBRASKA’S CORN BELT, family farmer and Costco
supplier Scott Wagner is in the cab of his GPS-guided John
Deere combine, harvesting the last of his corn crop. He
keeps his hands off the wheel—the combine is driving
autonomously. It impressively straddles eight rows at a time,
removing corn from the stalks, then shucking and shelling it.
Once the storage area is full, the press of a button creates a
cascade of kernels from the combine into a separate tractor
bed being driven alongside Wagner.
“My grandfather, when he used to do it, well, he’d have
a horse and a little box, and he would [harvest] by hand and
throw it in,” says Wagner. “And then all the neighbors would
get together [with] this little machine that would shell it.”
Automatically harvesting corn isn’t all his combine is
doing. Seven different screens blink and flash as they collect
all sorts of data points, measuring the productivity of each
acre and mapping the topography of his land. These are
technologies his grandfather certainly didn’t have. The infor-
mation will ultimately help Wagner operate more efficiently.
It’s the future of farming, because it has to be.
Farmers face an ever-expanding global population, labor
shortages, environmental challenges, sustainability and food
safety concerns, and, of course, the pressure to stay competitive. These issues are felt from the smallest family farm to the
largest growing operations. Many growers, however, are turning to technology to help overcome many of these obstacles.
Just as the first tractors created efficiencies in the field,
so are the new technologies emerging today. iPads, drones,
GPS systems, optical sorters, artificial intelligence, data-driven processes and much more are taking their place
COVER S TORY
alongside shovels and shears. In some cases, technology is
eliminating the traditional field altogether. The results allow
for smarter labor practices, fewer environmental impacts and
safer food-handling processes. In all cases, the introduction
of technology is helping farmers grow more with less.
Jeff Lyons, Costco’s senior vice president of fresh foods,
says agri-tech (a combination of agriculture and technology)
is important for Costco, and also for the future of the global
food supply. “Not only does the United States count on [the]
United States’ farmers, but the world does,” he says. “The
world needs food, and we’re the greatest producer in the
world on certain products. The benefit to the world is that
U.S. farmers are continually technologically advancing to
drive costs down so that they can meet the growing need.
That means investing in technology and equipment.”
The Connection met with several Costco suppliers who
are shattering traditional ideas of what it means to put food
on your table. Here’s what just four of them are doing.
Right: The screens in
Scott Wagner’s GPS
combine track yield
data in real time as
he harvests corn.
When technology and