Talking technology in a small gathering with Bill Gates might seem a little intimidating.
It didn’t rattle Red Deer’s Robert Saik, who gave a presentation on Wednesday on technology and agriculture to the Microsoft founder and multi-billionaire and about 30 others in Bellevue, Washington at a meeting organized by the Global Good Foundation.
It took place at Gates’s Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, which discovers, invents and develops technology solutions in a wide range of fields.
Also in the front row was Lowell Wood, a U.S. astrophysicist and all-time leading inventor, surpassing Thomas Edison in 2015; Microsoft’s former chief technology officer as well as some of the other smartest technology minds on the planet.
“It was quite the experience I tell you,” said Saik.
“I wasn’t nervous. I know my subject matter very well,” said Saik, owner of Agri-Trend, an agriculture consulting firm that helps farmers use the latest technology to get the most out of their operations.
“What really took the nervousness out of it is Bill walked in with a shirt and a sweater on and everyone was kind of in jeans. There was no pomp or circumstance.”
Saik’s presentation was on smart farming and ways that technology can be used to improve farming in both developed and developing countries.
Agri-Trend, which was bought by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based technology consulting firm Trimble in 2015, created Agri-Data Solutions software to help farmers manage information to make the best decisions, boosting yields and profits.
“The thinking is if we can do that in the developed world, can we do that in the developing world?” said Saik.
“The premise of my discussion was how do we shrink time and space, allowing agronomists like myself to work with both, farmers in Saskatchewan and in Africa.
“What does the Saskatchewan farmer have in common with a Ugandan farmer?”
Smartphone technology is the answer, he said.
Not surprisingly, Gates was well informed. He had even heard a Ted Talk that Saik gave in Red Deer in 2014.
“Bill’s knowledge of agriculture is vast. His questions were direct and he was engaged.”
Saik said there is much that is impressive about Gates.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is in a building with 1,500 employees, and the Gateses show up for work there every day.
“He’s the richest man in the world and he goes to work every day to try to make the world a better place. That blew me away.”