• An animated Lowell Catlett lectures on future trends in agriculture at Holt Hall on the Chico State campus Thursday.(Bill Husa/Staff Photo)<p class='dotPhoto'>All Chico E-R photos are available <a href='http://chicoer.mycapture.com/'>here</a>.</p>



CHICO — Innovations often come from seeing things from a larger perspective, or at least by stepping away from a narrow focus, observed Lowell Catlett, a “futurist” who spoke at Chico State University Thursday morning.

The animated public speaker is a dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer Affairs and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, and was invited to Chico to speak at the Butte County Farm Bureau annual dinner Thursday night.

Catlett has a passion for keeping up on new trends and scientific advancements and making connections that are often overlooked.

For example, he has a colleague at New Mexico State University who has studied bugs in cotton crops. The work later involved optics, and targeting of specific pests. Over time, the researcher used high-tech satellite research to note similarities between higher nitrogen levels in some cotton crops, which corresponded to higher number of pests.

As work continued to improve cotton production, the theory emerged that nitrogen could be used more precisely, to change the way pesticides need to be applied.

Very recently, Catlett said, his colleague determined the best way for cotton growers to make money is to go organic.

This opens up entirely new opportunities, because plants such as cotton, when managed well, have a great ability to “suck up carbon like never before.”

Carbon is a problem for industries such as energy production. The idea now is to talk to coal production companies to see if cotton can be used in carbon sequestration, Catlett said.

“We have to be revolutionary now in solving issues,” Catlett said. People who are experts in one discipline can work with scientists in other areas, he continued.

Catlett shared other stories, about strides in green roof technology for growing food and lowering urban temperatures. He also predicted beekeeping might one day dominate skylines.

For health care costs, Catlett said a small percentage of people with poor health habits use a large portion of overall health care spending. One approach is to provide encouragement and healthful “coaching” in a way that will lower health care spending.

Another health story helped illustrate Catlett”s belief in the connection between plants, animals and people.

A recent study in Japan tested a Labrador retriever”s ability to sniff out colon cancer.

The study determined the dog was 98 percent accurate, Catlett said, by smelling a person”s breath or fecal matter.

“The brilliance of this study is it can be done in early stages and see if it is a benign polyp or malignant,” Catlett said.

“A colonoscopy can”t do that,” he said.

“Dogs are going to the be in the hospital,” Catlett predicted.

During the question-and-answer period, a man asked whether it is a problem that Butte County agriculture is dominated by three main crops.

Catlett said if farmers are making money they should “keep on trucking,” but be mindful that the crops of today may not be the crops of the future.

“There”s nothing wrong with monoculture,” which can be very efficient, he said, “but be aware of other opportunities.”

Catlett segued into an example with Walmart.

“Everyone is mad about Walmart,” he said, which some might compare to monoculture in agriculture.

But the trend is for businesses, such as hardware stores, to move into areas near the big retailer. Someone who walks into Walmart looking for a specific part will likely have a difficult time finding it, he said. But if a hardware store with great customer service is nearby, the customer can walk in, ask for the item, and buy it, he said.

The same goes for specialty pet stores, as a big retailer will carry the basic items, but not the variety found in a more specialized pet store, Catlett said.

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