Farming ain’t what it used to be.
For a country that was founded on a primarily agrarian economy, we have come a long way. Industrialization and globalization have changed the jobs we work and places we live. But that doesn’t mean that farms aren’t a vital part of our economy. And it doesn’t mean that agricultural innovation has ended. In fact, in 2014 the opposite is true, farming is changing more than it has in generations. Economics is causing agriculture to evolve in new ways. Digital and mobile technology is injecting new life into farms, making them more productive and efficient than ever before.
Rhett Schilldroth, Senior Product Manager at Kinze Manufacturing, says that changes in farming comes down to new ideas. “Agriculture is an ever-changing field and farmers advance as technology advances. It isn’t so much about ‘switching’ from an old way of farming to a new way, but about adopting new ideas and incorporating them into the traditional way of farming.”
Here are 5 farming trends that are changing the game in 2014.
On the heels of the recently approved Farm Bill (or Agricultural Act of 2014), the USDA is in the process of rolling out sweeping regulations that could change agriculture. Instead of relying on the federal government for disaster coverage or subsidy, farmers will have to resort to commercial crop insurance, livestock insurance, and commercial risk mitigation products. As Warren Graeff, Head of Agriculture Banking at PNC Bank says, “in essence, the Farm Bill is trying to ween farmers away from reliance on direct payments and go towards commercial insurance to mitigate risk.”
Warren believes that economic trends will be important for farmers to watch in 2014 and beyond. Farmland values have increased as other economic variables have swayed in the favor of agriculture: interest rates have held, demand for U.S. commodities has increased, overseas exports have increased, and the U.S. dollar has stayed comparatively low to foreign currency. This has helped both the livestock and crop sectors, leading to more income for farmers.
However, some costs are still rising. Wayne Tucker, Co-Owner of Bio S.I. Technology, says that “costs of equipment, seeds, land, leases, and fertilizer are all increasing to a point where growers are examining what crops will generate the income to cope with the costs.”
Wayne expects large farms to increase as smaller ones fail to meet income efficiencies. “This will increase the impact of the cost of food for the consumer when crop failures occur. Growers will be looking for products and crops that will be more suited for profit rather than food. Every acre that goes to non-food product will have an impact on the amount of available food. 10 years from now with all the new mouths to feed and fewer venues of production the costs at the grocery store will soar and the people that are dependent on free stuff are going to be getting less than they want…this will lead to a tremendous amount of pressure on large cities that produce nothing but consume everything.”
Warren Graeff of PNC Bank recommends a “more robust risk management plan” for farming operations with increased volatility in terms of commodities. He believes farmers using a more sophisticated individual marketing plan will thrive in this environment.
Warren Graeff of PNC Bank believes “we’re at the beginning of a technology revolution for agriculture.”
The average age of farmers today is in the early to mid 60’s. New farmers coming into agriculture are a lot more comfortable with technology, and are finding ways to adapt it to farming. Warren cites a farming family from West Indiana as a great example of this. “The father runs all the equipment, but when it comes to calibrating the sprayers and marketing commodities it’s all done by the son on the iPad. The dad is ‘old-school’ – doing things the way he has done for 20, 30, 40 years, and the son is strategically changing the direction of technology.”
640Labs is a quintessential example of how technology is changing farming. The company uses analytics, mobile data, and cloud computing to help farmers farm smarter. Part of their 640Drive offering includes an integration with mobile and tablet platforms. This shift towards mobile and tablet farming technology can be considered the “appification” of agriculture, summed up by Patt Durmstorff of 640 Labs.
“The widespread use of smartphones and tablets in combination with rapidly expanding broadband network coverage in rural areas is putting critical data at farmers’ fingertips and also enabling them to transmit information like never before. The ag ecosystem is quickly generating apps to bring a wide variety of data to the field when it is needed (weather, markets, agronomic advice, etc) and seamlessly gather data from the field (scouting, machine data, equipment location, etc.).”
Rhett Schilldroth of Kinze says robotics is changing the way we farm. “The use of robotics in agriculture is a huge innovation, as is autonomy. Kinze has focused on both, and made a great deal of advancement in the industry. Kinze has developed an autonomous harvesting system which is currently in a testing phase on select farms across the country.”
Unmanned vehicles and drones may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but these devices are very real and are already being implemented in farms across the country today. Relatively inexpensive drones with advanced sensors and video/image abilities are helping farmers increase crop yields. Drones effectively make it much easier for farmers to take images of their entire acreage by flying overhead, controlled remotely by a farmer.
Kinze also believes that multi-hybrid planters will be the “next big thing” in planting. “Studies have shown positive yield results because farmers are able to tailor hybrids to different zones in their fields. They can very quickly, through yield maps, determine where those zones are, and can work with their seed company to tailor the seed to those areas.”
Smarter systems based on the cloud are helping farming efficiencies advance. Trend expert Pat Durmstorff of 640 Labs says data in modern precision agriculture is too much for a desktop computer to handle. “Cloud based systems with a web brewer interface are quickly becoming the norm for modern farmers. This allows the farmers and their trusted advisors to access their data and analytics from virtually anywhere without buying, managing and maintaining their own computing infrastructure.”
Now, big data is allowing farmers to see things that weren’t visible before, and perform new types of analyses. “It is like having a more powerful lens in your telescope – new information and insights are brought into focus. The nearly universal use of GPS systems on modern agriculture equipment has allowed farmers to spatially tailor their inputs based on how much is needed at what location, thus minimizing the impact on the environment and maximizing productivity. The advanced systems necessary to deliver the variable rate inputs are becoming more popular with growers.”
Pat believes farmers will only take this data farther in 2014 and beyond. “Vast amounts of data are not collected, aggregated and analyzed. So chances are a farmer already possesses almost all of the technology to apply more advanced techniques to his/her operation and does not need to make a big investment. Through the use of a small piece of hardware (640 Drive), a smartphone or tablet which the farmer probably already owns and a cloud-based dashboard, the farmer may make a quantum leap in the level of visibility and analytics they may apply to their operations.”
The public dialogue is changing when it comes to agriculture and consumers. Terry Fleck, Executive Director of the Center for Food Integrity believes modern advances in farming might have actually undermined consumer trust in the farming industry. “Whether farms or food companies, consumers are increasingly skeptical that large organizations are worthy of trust. During the past 45 years, consolidation, integration and technological advances have increasingly resulted in food being viewed as an institution.”
This is what farmers need to work against and that involved creating a human connection once more. When consumers see food only in a super market and have no connection to the farmers themselves, that is when the disconnect begins. Combine that with the public’s eroding trust in any institution – from financial, government, education, etc., and it’s easy to see why a dialogue on authenticity is necessary.
“Research from the Center for Food Integrity shows that the use of values-based messaging, or connecting with consumers based on what is important to them, is 4-5 times more important in building consumer trust than demonstrating competence. By learning to communicate through the use of shared values, farmers can learn to actively share their story and build consumer trust.” Terry cites efforts such as, “understanding consumer motivation and the issues important to them; disclosing information important to those consumers; participating in a dialogue with consumers; asking what information is meaningful to them; offering clarity in the information provided; sharing truthful, objective, reliable and complete information; and, demonstrating that they genuinely care and presenting more than one side of controversial issues.”
Wayne Tucker of Bio S.I. Technology has had years of firsthand experience helping farmers reconnect and fall in love with farming again by helping them embrace new technology and advances and discover farming the modern way. He tells the following story about how farmers can evolve as these trends continue to affect agriculture.
“A grower we have been working with the last two and a half years was on the brink of quitting farming. They were just not able to get things going well enough to justify the cost and work. They were very worried and stressed about everything going on… They did all we asked that could be done in their budget. They are now among the top producers not only in their county but in the state where they farm. They have smiles on their faces and hold their head up high because they made some hard decisions that took them in a new direction. They told us they did not think it could be done but we helped them do it…People have been told what to do so long they have forgotten how to make changes from the things that don’t work.”
Do you know any trends that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments below or on our social channels!
Check out our land for sale listings to see if the perfect farm property is waiting for you.