The irreplaceable human element in ranching

Photo by Debra Murphy. Scotland IFAJ, 2014.

For some, technology like autonomous tractors and unmanned aerial vehicles offer great interest; for others, the quick advancements in robotics and data are overwhelming and intimidating. Will we soon see job losses? Will human presence on farms be made obsolete?

Not at all, says Christine Su, co-founder and CEO of PastureMap, a company that makes ranch management software.

Technology may be good at certain tasks, but it’s not good at everything, and Su firmly believes human knowledge and creativity is the most important asset on the ranch.

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“So, technology is good at automating mundane, repetitive tasks; it doesn’t ask for a break, it doesn’t ask for a pay raise; and it’s really good at doing the same task over and over and over again with high consistency without getting bored,” explains Su. “But what it’s not good at is what humans are good at, which is making judgements, using knowledge and creativity to manage very diverse landscapes and ecosystems.”

PastureMap’s Christine Su joined Debra Murphy for a conversation at BeefTech, in Edmonton. The two discuss the positives of technology, some of the opportunities for the beef sector, and the unique ways some innovations are already bridging the urban/rural divide.

Technology, she says, should be used to enable humans to spend more time doing what we want to do, and what we’re good at.

And, as for the differences in beliefs between the generations, Su has a bright side for that too. She says “we are all better off thinking about ourselves as a multigenerational, intellectual polyculture,” using the analogy of the diversity we see in nature. Ecosystmes , she says, withstand shock with resiliency and diversity. “As with nature, so too with the industry — the more multigenerational different perspectives we have coming together to solve these problems, the likelier we are to succeed.”

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