Growing Success in a Time of Crisis

Artificial intelligence tools can help make the most of a bad situation


Agriculture was already in a bad spot before coronavirus hit. The trade war was bad enough, but now tensions with China are worse than they’ve ever been. Like everyone else, farmers face unprecedented disruptions in their daily lives.


The market is spooked, sending grain and soybean prices on a roller coaster ride,[1] and despite some recovery[2], the lack of clear direction makes it difficult to plan.


Ports are seeing light traffic as international trade contracts dry up, while U.S. food exports are stuck at Chinese ports because quarantines are interfering with the offloading of cargo.[3] Crop Life had previously calculated that a 25 percent tariff would cost farmers $393 million per year.[4] This isn’t a 25 percent tariff. It’s much, much worse.


While there’s a surge in domestic demand at the retail level as consumers flock to supermarkets to stock up, the commercial sector is being walloped as restaurants and other food service businesses are forced to close. It’s a realignment of the supply chain that we’ve never seen before. Is it for the short term? Will it last months, or have long-term effects? America is counting on the agriculture sector to rise to the challenge in whatever form it takes.


Potential for input supply disruption


Tractor spraying pesticides on soybean field with sprayer at spring

Watch out for the potential for a spike in the cost of inputs as Chinese factories are shut down, repurposed, or blocked by quarantines.[5] Growers depend on critical crop protection products like glyphosate and dicamba, made with active ingredients sourced from China. China shipped $821 million worth of active ingredients to the U.S. in 2017, and the disruption is going to have significant impact.


Chinese production had already suffered a blow with last year’s massive, and deadly, explosion at the Tianjiayi Chemical Company[6] plant that supplied ingredients no longer produced in the U.S. for use by the big-name chemical manufacturers.[7] We’re now facing the closing, or at best a reduction in effectiveness, of China’s 15,352 other chemical-producing factories.[8] It’s not clear how much of the agricultural chemicals will make their way to our shores,[9] as China recently replaced the U.S. with Brazil as its top crop protection customer.[10] None of this is good for input prices.


Making the most of uncertain times with precision ag


Given the growing uncertainty, the farmer needs effective crop scouting. As chemical supplies diminish, there’s absolutely no room for waste in their use. With the ongoing squeeze on profit margins, there’s also no room for yield loss. That means precision delivery of inputs and top-notch management skills will be needed to make the most of each harvest.


For best effect, the scouting should take place throughout the crop life cycle, so pests and other problems never have a chance to establish a foothold in the field. The growers who know exactly what’s going on with every acre are going to be the ones able to respond in a timely manner to keep yields high.


Effective scouting, along with precision delivery of inputs, can go a long way to making the most of the growing season. But there’s another step to take.


More than precision ag, Smart Ag


Keeping a farm profitable is about more than just having the best yields for the conditions. Farmers also need an edge when it comes to weighing whether it’s worth using a more expensive product to get a small production boost or to stick with something cheaper to keep the costs as low as possible. There are constant decisions to make about the maintenance of equipment and upkeep. There are hundreds of decisions that need to be made throughout the growing season.


The farmers don’t need to tackle these decisions on their own anymore. True Smart Agriculture is all about offering decision support tools that can assist in the management of the entire operation, going beyond the precision ag tools. Artificial intelligence and advanced analytics can take all the data that a farm can produce and make it actually useful for the entire growing enterprise.


Instead of worrying about the trade war’s impact, Smart Ag tools can help farmers manage their valuable time so they can focus their attention on where it can have the most significant effect on yields and profits. And they can devote time to their family while the machine keeps watch over operational efficiency.


Americans are counting on farmers more than ever, and continued development of Smart Ag tools will give them the certainty they need in these uncertain times.


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