What’s life look like for growers after COVID-19?
Only technology can scale to meet the needs of tomorrow’s agriculture
The time to think about what happens to agriculture when the country reopens is now. Whether that day is weeks away or a matter of months, farmers need to be prepared for the inevitable changes we all will have to make. Under the best possible scenario, the post-COVID world will be marked by a resurgence of economic growth as millions re-enter the market, eager to make up for lost time.
While nobody can know exactly what the future will look like, there are a few less positive developments that are shaping ag right now:
- Farmers are vulnerable to the virus. According to USDA, about half of producers have another job besides farming, a quarter live off the farm, and a third find themselves in the vulnerable over-65 age category. This means over a million producers could be directly affected before the virus threat finally passes. That would be a massive blow on top of all the problems agriculture had to deal with just before the pandemic hit.
- Ethanol is in freefall. When people have to be paid to take delivery of crude oil under a futures contract, nobody is going to be interested in spending their hard-earned money buying ethanol. With vanishing demand, the big players like ADM have shut down production, which is bad news for corn prices.
- South America is on the rise. China has invested heavily in South American agriculture, elevating Brazil’s status as the world’s largest soybean exporter. Since the 2008 global food crisis and President Trump’s recent trade war, Beijing has decided to look for suppliers beyond U.S. farmers to guarantee its food security. We need to be prepared if China disengages completely.
These developments suggest significant changes are on the horizon in ag. Perhaps the industry will return to the diversity in crop rotation of decades past, as the current mix struggles in the face of uncertain demand. For the U.S. to compete with the lower-cost producers in South America, our only choice is to dominate through our greatest strength, technology. And that’s the good news because we can easily scale up our digital advantage.
Optimization at scale is everything
Facing ever more compressed profit margins, farmers need to make the most of every choice they make on the farm, as there’s no room for error. For example, growers can no longer afford to blanket fields in chemicals and fertilizers, throwing away cash that’s badly needed to stay profitable. Optimization through precision delivery systems has been around for quite some time, but that’s a partial solution. It’s thinking small.
On average, growers make about forty critical decisions throughout the season. How to time the harvest? Where should fungicides and herbicides be applied, how much, and when? What about nutrient application and replanting? And so on. If each of these choices is on target, it’s going to be a good harvest.
Experienced farmers rely on what’s worked in the past to guide their choices. That’s a pretty good system, but it’s far from perfect. Fields are never the same from one season to the next, much less from one day to the next. Luck plays too much of a role in determining whether this approach ends up working or not.
Instead of dwelling on the past, a more scientific, forward-looking approach provides reliable results. Whole farm intelligence solutions give growers the facts they need about farm performance to decide what to do. Instead of looking backward, artificial intelligence solutions deal with current growing conditions, and they look ahead to what’s needed for success.
The pandemic response has accelerated digital transition
As we’ve discussed previously, one of the few bright spots in the pandemic has been the acceleration of digital solutions to solve some severe problems. Schools and universities almost overnight found out they could use video conferencing to replace the classroom. Many are also finding that they can be just as effective holding business meetings on Zoom and without time wasted commuting and traveling.
Facing the same necessity, farmers will likewise turn to technology to build a better future for themselves. AI-backed solutions are the future of agriculture, and the best news is that these tools available today for growers who want an advantage in the post-COVID future.
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