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Leave it to the farmers to get it done

How an Idaho farmer uses no-till planting to keep soil in the field

Farmer Glen Edwards uses no-till planting practices on his wheat field, which keeps the soil in the field rather than washing or blowing away.
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Farmer Glen Edwards uses no-till planting practices on his wheat field, which keeps the soil in the field rather than washing or blowing away.

I’m an eclectic reader. When I’m in an airport, I’ll buy magazines I never would normally read — from wrestling or organic farming to hang gliding or horses.

They give me ideas that might be useful for business or the rest of my life. Then I bump into other articles, and often they all connect.

I looked at an old issue of Science magazine (Nov. 28, 2014) with an interview of an MIT professor that sparked some thoughts. Robert S. Langer talked about connections between science and entrepreneurship. One quote stood out:

“When you’re a student, you’re judged by how well you answer questions. But in life, you’re judged by how good your questions are.”

Sounds like the perfect characteristic of an entrepreneur.

Then, I stumbled onto a May 2, 2016, Wall Street Journal article about how 30-year-old Matt Reimer from Manitoba used coursework from the MIT website and online forums to create a robot tractor from drone parts and open-source software. Reimer claims the tractor helped save him $8,000 last year, equivalent to part of the pay for a tractor driver.

What’s remarkable is that this young farmer, who dropped out of engineering school, likely exemplifies the future of farming entrepreneurship. He knew what questions to ask and went about finding a solution.

We talk about making America great as if we’ve lost it all. (Then again, Canada may already be great with folks like Reimer inventing cool equipment.) But we have so much of what has already made us great: ingenuity, innovation and drive to solve a problem. As Reimer told the Journal, even if autonomous tractors come out next year, it would be “15 years before that technology trickles down to every farm.” Why wait? He just got it done.

So rather than listening to bombast, I’m putting my money on the ability of people who actually do the work — in the field, on the factory floor, in the classroom or the operating room — to ask good questions and find ways to do things differently to get better. Just get it done.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University, nnapier@boisestate.edu. This column appears in the July 20-Aug. 17, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on agriculture. Click here for the daily Statesman e-edition, including Business Insider (subscription required).

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