Technology Down on the farm
It is difficult to imagine a connection between farming and the cloak-and- dagger activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but farmers have begun to benefit from instruments designed by the agency to fight wars and for counter espionage activities.
• Farmers constantly fight a war on crop-eating insects, and a system developed to detect trace amounts of dangerous chemicals are being tested for use by farmers to detect traces of pheromones (chemical scents produced by insects) in their fields. Indication of strong insect enemy presence will allow the farmer time to plan a response.
• USDA researchers say catfish farmers could use a similar system to detect “off-flavor” in their ponds. Off-flavor. caused by certain types of algae, produces a musty flavor in catfish, which is a big negative for the farmer.
• Cotton farmers could also see a benefit from U.S. war technology. Researchers say extremely sensitive radar systems, designed to detect enemy soldier and tank strength, is being adapted to help farmers chart cotton growth in the field.
• Listening devices designed for the CIA to hear distant conversations are be used to actually hear insects feeding on crop leaves, a sound most farmers would rather not hear.
• Even NASA might be able to help the U.S. food production effort: A system they have developed to chart weather patterns is adaptable to detect plant stress and measure soil moisture.
• Satellite mapping and remote sensing have developed methods to predict the size and quality of crops. Avocado trees emit different light signatures that correspond the bounty of avocados held within their boughs. The quantity of avocados can be an important planning tool for the farmer. He can decide whether to hold on to the crop and sell when they are ripe (hoping for a greater price, or forward contact at a good price if he thinks what he has is the best he will get.
Technology and agriculture have long been partners in progress. Today’s farmer is always looking for ways to be more efficient, cut costs and work smarter. Many instruments and techniques developed for war and espionage can help the farmer fight crop losses and make better-informed decisions on crop marketing.