The ushering in of a new year has us looking at noteworthy trends- some which we think will greatly shape agriculture in 2017 and beyond and others that are interesting additions to the industry landscape.
(And while your mind is on what's ahead in ag, we encourage you to view the agenda for the IntelliFarms Tech Summit coming up on February 8 in Kansas City - some of the trends below are explored in-depth at this one-of-a-kind event. Don't miss out!)
1. Trump’s Presidency
Donald Trump said a great deal about ending the war on business-hampering regulation during his run for office, but what policies will actually come into play? Trump’s tough talk on slashing regulation could usher in a new, favorable era for the American farmer, but some of his trade policies also have raised concerns about the administration's management of exports that are crucial to the American farm economy. In recent days, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue is reported to be in the lead for the Secretary of Agriculture role. The Secretary will be in a leading position to manage the development and passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Perdue has experience in export trade, most recently founding Perdue Partners after his second term as governor, which is a global trading firm that consults and provides services for companies looking to export products.Though there is still uncertainty about how Trump will impact ag, industry groups have largely welcomed the new administration and express hope for a brighter future for ag.
2. Automated farm equipment
Silicon Valley isn’t the only place experimenting with driverless technology. The concept has come to life in the last year with companies like Case IH premiering semi- and fully-automated tractors. Matt Rushing, VP of Precision Ag and Advanced Technology for AGCO, told CNBC in September that the sensing technology behind automated driving has dropped in price significantly, allowing companies to take more risks with their concepts. The technology is not limited to tractors, with ideas for automated combines, grain carts, and planters being discussed.
3. Tracking and tracing
Consumer interest in where food comes from and how it is handled has been one of the most talked about narratives of the past few years. There’s no reason to think that sentiment will lessen as GMO legislation in states like Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island have kept the topic in the national spotlight. With food production transparency and safety top of mind, agriculture must continue to listen and respond to this consumer-driven message. For example, IntelliFarms has responded with our SureTrack Platform, designed to connect data across many points in the food production process so that both farmers and processors can track the growth and movement of grain from seed to the point it is sold.
4. Higher protein content
Protein is in high-demand as the global population grows. Also, those in the areas of the world that are growing quickest are improving their diets and requiring greater protein. Biotechnology applications continue to evolve in order to meet this protein demand. For example, an article from the Rice Research Station at Louisiana State University Agriculture Center describes four different approaches that manipulate seed protein bodies to provide the proper balance of essential amino acids most cereal grains do not contain naturally.
5. Augmented reality
Augmented reality is no longer being used simply to make video games more appealing. These emerging technologies are being adopted across a number of fields such as medicine, professional athletics, and increasingly, agriculture. It is the idea of Google Glasses, with real-time data or information being overlaid into your visual frame of view. There is research being done in Augmented Reality by superimposing computer-generated 3D images on tractor navigation screens to provide more data and build a complete picture of the field beyond what is physically being seen. It will be interesting to watch what other applications of Augmented Reality emerge to help farmers make real-time decisions in the coming years.
6. Cyber-Physical Systems Grant
In 2017, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is working with federal agencies such as the USDA to identify what needs there are for research in Cyber-Physical Systems. According to the grant’s application page at nifa.usda.gov, "Cyber-Physical Systems, or CPS, are those that are built by and depend on integrating computational algorithms with physical components. CPS technology will transform the way people interact with engineered systems -- just as the Internet has transformed the way people interact with information." $5 million is available to fund CPS research projects in all fields, including Ag. If you’d like to learn more about this program, or have a project in mind you’d like to apply for, click here.
7. Water conservation
Water scarcity is a growing problem in some states, notably California and parts of Texas. The issue is global though - Growingblue.com states that 2.5 billion people, and almost 40% of the world’s grain production are presently at risk with water stress levels rising. Ag innovations have stepped up to improve water usage efficiency. Variable Rate Irrigation systems have greatly improved the efficiency of center pivot irrigation, and by cross-referencing that information with in-field soil moisture sensors, water can be applied only to the areas that need it the most. Be watching for IntelliFarms to debut our PivotManager technology later in the year.
8. Soil restoration
Scientists and agronomists keep digging deeper into the natural potential of soil. Over the past few years, the biological market has taken off, as the soil and plant health-boosting potential of naturally-occurring soil microbes was realized. In-field testing has become the norm for many farmers who want the full picture of microbial activity in their fields. Improving soil health is just one aspect of improving overall soil quality. The NRCS lists activities that have been show to benefit soil across the state. The first activity is adopting no-till practices, which has shown significant minimization of soil erosion both caused by wind and water, while also improving organic matter. Also, to operations that have the capabilities, cover crops provide additional soil benefits such as prevention against erosion, increased organic matter, and minimizing soil compaction. We anticipate these and other soil restoration practices to become even more utilized in the coming year.
Despite the Trump administration's stance on global warming, consumers are continuing to push forward a sustainability-favorable movement, challenging Corporate America and various industries to adopt even more "green" practices. In addition, we are seeing a whole new approach to sustainability in the consumer market as more households are becoming self-reliant for energy (i.e., solar panels) and food (i.e., backyard gardens, chicken coops, etc.). New forays in this fully "green" and self-sustaining lifestyle are being explored, such as the development of ReGen Village outside of Amsterdam, discussed in this Fast Co. article. The village is designed so that the community inhabitants grow their own food, supply their own energy and dispose of their own waste. Sure, this is one extreme end on the sustainability continuum, but it illustrates a consumer-driven trend that will have an effect on global ag. How can agriculture adapt to serve this changing mindset?
10. Strategic decisions and exploring alternatives
“He that by the plow would thrive, Himself must either hold or drive.” – Benjamin Franklin.
While today's farmers have more technology available today than ever before that offers hands-off management, they must in fact be very hands-on when it comes to strategically planning for the short-term and long-term future of the farm. A few years ago when prices were high, deeply analyzing and crunching the numbers may have been of less importance. In the down ag economy, careful analysis of inputs must be a standard practice. In addition to strategically managing expenses, many farms are also exploring new niche markets and building strategic buyer relationships. We’ve previously discussed IntelliFarms' customer, Andrew Hoelscher, President of Farm Strategy Consultants in Ellsworth, KS, who offers consultation and merchandising solutions. He reminds us that each crop is grown for a reason and for an end-product, and that a farmer is going to be successful by producing quality grain that meets the needs of that end goal and gets into the hands of buyers who pay accordingly for it.