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Into the Future: Catlett looks at the world in 2020

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – Lowell Catlett, Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, discussed the future in terms of technology and agriculture.

“We can’t forecast the future, but we can be prepared to handle it,” Catlett told the audience at Casper College’s 12th Annual Doornbos lecture on Feb. 11. “The way we prepare ourselves is to imagine the future.”

In his presentation, “Imaging the World of 2020,” Catlett highlighted how today’s technology and our ability to adapt to a changing world will drive the economy.

Future of healthcare

“If you want to have healthy people, you can’t separate them from plants, animals and people,” said Catlett. “You can try, but it doesn’t work.”

Catlett continued that over the last 1.5 years, scientists have generated data suggesting humans who have contact with people, plants and animals are healthier.

“We started studying mothers who go through very difficult child labor. The moment the infant is put in the bosom of the mother, almost instinctively, they smile,” he explained. “The best medical science could do for years was to say it was just the mother-child bond.”

“It’s a strong bond, and it’s biochemical. In the last two years, we have found the ‘bonding chemical mix,’” Catlett continued. “We have identified over 100 different good steroids your body starts producing the moment the infant and mother have physical contact.”

The primary chemical involved in the interaction is oxytocin.

In further analysis, compiling the results from 114 studies, scientists noted that people with rich and deep social connections died from all causes at one-fourth the rate of those who didn’t. 

Additionally, those people with rich and deep social connections contract infectious diseases, cold and flu at one-half the rate of those who don’t.

“We like to be around people,” Catlett summarized.

Animal connections

The same connections can be seen between humans and animals.

“Have you ever heard the expression that there is something about women and horses?” asked Catlett. “Science can prove it now.”

He continued, “A group called Heart Math showed that 90 percent of women, within ten minutes of being in the presence of a horse, get into cardiac rhythm with the horse. Less than 10 percent of men do.”

The same impact is seen in other species. Recently, veterinary medicine released a study saying that it takes about 20 minutes for human oxytocin levels to become identical. It also takes about 20 minutes for the oxytocin levels between humans and their pets to match. 

“Are those pets?” asked Catlett. “Or is that healthcare?”

Production ag

Using the data, agriculture has already begun to benefit.

In the organic dairies owned by a major supplier for Whole Foods, Catlett described how a herdsman suggested penning male calves together, rather than isolating them after they are removed from their mothers. 

“The male calves are taken off their mothers almost immediately, and they have no immune system, so we isolate them in crates,” explained Catlett. “The national death rate on male calves is about 30 percent.”

When the herdsman suggested penning male calves together, death loss dropped to zero percent. 

“If you want to have healthy people,” he said, “You can’t separate them from plants and animals.”

“If we are going to imagine the world of 2020, what kind of healthcare environments do you want to be in?” Catlett asked. “Would you live in an environment where there are grass and trees and flowers, or one where there are concrete roads?”

Ag impacts

“This has everything to do with agriculture,” said Catlett. “Every 6.8 seconds, a baby boomer turns 50. We are getting old.”

He also noted they are a generation that has money to spend.

Catlett described an Australian farmer who raises wheat and sheep, operates a boutique winery and makes artisan goat cheese.

The farmer and his wife recently leased land to the healthcare sector to build an assisted living care facility.

“The average Aussie would much rather watch the sun rise across the farm’s wheat fields than try to glimpse the sunrise coming through the downtown skyscrapers in an institution with a semi-private room in Sydney,” Catlett said. 

“Get ready folks – we have a revolution going on in the country,” he said. “If you build those kind of facilities, they will come, and there are a whole bunch of baby boomers.”


With a changing world, Catlett mentioned it is important for companies to adapt with changes in technology. 

The cell phone, for example, has created numerous opportunities for companies and users. 

“Then two years ago, someone said, ‘Let’s take the camera lens off of a cell phone and put on a molecular lens,’” Catlett explained, noting the high-tech lens, coupled with an infrared laser, is used in diagnostics. “The molecular lens looks at patterns of light and dark, identifying whether the lesion on your skin is benign or cancerous – that technology is already here.”

Additional lenses and applications for smart phones allow users to test their blood sugar or send information about their heart conditions to medical professionals.

“If we have all of that, maybe we can take a picture of a cow’s eye and know whether she is in estrus or not or know if she has a nitrogen deficiency,” he suggested, only scratching the surface of a realm of possibilities.


Other technologies have are also making impacts.

“Get ready for a revolution in manufacturing the likes of which you have never seen,” Catlett commented. 

But as manufacturing abilities increase, Catlett also noted the need for people who have skills to build things also grow. 

“We used to learn how to burn up a welding rod, use a cutting torch and turn wrenches in Farm Shop,” said Catlett of his high school days. “Today, we have said that all students need college prep. We lost a whole generation.”

At the same time, scientists are sharing plans online for open-source hardware – the 50 machines that will change the world. 

“There are 7 billion people on this planet. Four billion don’t have a good roof over their heads, don’t have safe, potable water, and these 50 machines are going to change that,” he said.

“If these 4 billion people are just 30 percent more productive, the first thing that they are going to change is their diet, and the first thing they are going to want to add to their diet is meat protein,” he said. “When we help those 4 billion people live a better life, I guarantee they are going to buy more Wyoming beef and sheep and anything you produce.”

However, Catlett added, “We need a whole new generation of people that know how to run a welding bead, using a cutting torch, use a wrench, assemble and build.”

The biggest agriculture challenge

“Right now agriculture as an industry does not lack liquidity or money,” Lowell Catlett, Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, said at the 12th Annual Doornbos Lecture on Feb. 11.

The biggest difficulty facing agriculture, according to Catlett, is creativity.

“The average five-year-old laughs 40 times a day. The average 40-year-old laughs five times a day,” he said. “We have gotten older, more cynical, and most importantly, we’ve lost our creativity.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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