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When we think of great the great technological advancements of our time, we tend to think of those that grab our collective attention because they are "sexy" and look to have a direct impact on our lives—if not now, certainly in the near future. Perhaps no greater example is when Steve Jobs took to the stage to introduce the iPhone to an amazed world way, way back—in 2007! We just knew that was a moment....
We tend to think of those tech innovations that leave our mouths collectively agape - at least when we see them for the first time. We tend to have these "Wow....Damn!" reactions the when we see video evidence of high-tech wizardry in action for the first time. This includes things like self-driving cars...
or robots that can jump and run....
But what if I told you that one of the most exciting innovations to come down the pipe in a long time is coming from a company that is not located in Silicon Valley or in Guangzhou—but in Kansas! What if I told you that this innovation involves mankind's foremost invention of all time (and no kids, it's not the iPhone!)—one to which both scholars and Beavis and Butt-Head would agree—fire!
And what if I told you that this invention merges some of the biggest consumer trends of our time—being eco-friendly, raising natural foods, going chemical free—and all of this is occurring not in a high-tech, clean laboratory, but down on the farm? Would you believe it? Would you be intrigued?
I know for me, even as a strategic management consultant and professor, I must admit that I am attracted to the newest, the sexiest, the most high-tech innovations, ready to proclaim, "OK, that's it! That's a game changer!"
However, when I saw this article shared by one of my close "friends" social media from Nerdist, with the intriguing headline "Farmers Are Using Flamethrowing Tractors to Get Rid of Weeds and Pests," you can guess that the word "flamethowing" was what got my attention—at least in my "caveman" mind! In this article, author Derrick Rossignol shined the spotlight on how an innovative firm, Flame Engineering, Inc., based in the tech mecca of LaCrosse, Kansas (which is noted as being the "Barbed Wire Capitol of the World," which yes, in its day, was a huge, game-changing invention!) has basically figured out an innovative solution to a major—really major—problem in the agricultural world—namely weeds!
As more and more chemical solutions are employed to fight weeds in farming, weeds have become more and more resistant over time. And as the news concerning weed killers such as Roundup is not good, and attorneys across the country are testing the liability of huge chemical companies for the cancer-causing propensities of these herbicides—allegedly.
While the final outcome of such cases may not be settled for some time, all of the attention being given to the use of chemicals in weed and pest control on the farm certainly has been a boon for the organic food industry. Increasingly, consumers are searching for—and willing to pay more—for fruits and vegetables raised in herbicide and pesticide-free environments—though still, the evidence goes both ways in terms of the real risks—and benefits—involved in buying and consuming "organic" versus "regular" food products. And as farmers run into the difficulty of dealing with pesky pests and weeds that are developing increasing resistance to the chemicals that are allowed on the market today, they will naturally—no pun intended—be looking for alternative ways to protect their crops—and their livelihoods!
The bigger debate on pesticides and herbicides can be deferred for another day, as it will likely continue to rage and be litigated for not just years, but decades. But in the meantime, there is no doubt that American consumers—and the retail outlets that provide all the "stuff" for them to consume—are liking the "buzz" surrounding organic, chemical-free foods. And so, that is why I was instantly drawn to Rossignol's article on how Flame Engineering—an aptly-named company if there ever was one—was employing not the latest and greatest chemical - but the most primitive of elements—to fight weeds and pests in American farming. Yes, fire (and yes, you are reading right) is the hottest thing (well, OK, a pun intended here) in fighting both weeds and pests in the agricultural world!
I'm going to leave the specifics on the efficacy, the science, the cost-efficiency, the health benefits of this company's sales pitch aside. Yes, as a business "expert" I should be focused on all of these, but instead, likely as you will be in a minute, I was drawn to this innovative new use of mankind's greatest and oldest technological breakthrough because well, it just looks cool! Tell me that you can't watch the video below and if you were a farmer you wouldn't say, "Where do I sign?"
And so yes, I am sold! Flame Engineering has indeed built a better mousetrap! They have shown how you can take the simplest of technologies and build it into a new solution for a very real, very felt problem today. Do I believe this is a viable solution? No, I'm not an agronomist or a plant biologist, so I can't comment on the science of all of this. I'm just a lowly business professor and consultant. However, I can tell you one thing—looking at how "flame weeding" works, I simply do not see any downside to the solution they have for much of the agribusiness market and a whole lot of upside!
If I am the average grocery shopper, do I want to buy an ear of corn or a carrot that has been treated with the latest and greatest herbicides and pesticides, or do I want to buy those that were simply treated with fire? That is an easy one! And so from a marketing standpoint, from an advertising standpoint, from a public relations standpoint, and yes, in 2019, from a legal standpoint, companies that have to deal with the very real issues of how their agricultural products are grown and sourced are going to say, "You know, fire is the preferred alternative!" Consumers will as well—in droves! And thus, I would say, from my business expert perch, that the prehistoric technology that is fire may be the hottest technology to come into the agricultural and consumer marketplace in quite some time—not to mention the coolest (and last time, no pun intended!).
This is going to be interesting to watch over the next few years, but I would bet my bottom-dollar that burning weeds will be the next big thing in the push for more healthy, organic foods in the American marketplace!