Last week’s column apparently hit a nerve, a positive nerve.
Phone calls and emails indicate a significant transition is underway with young farmers taking over the decision-making from the senior generations, and their different way of doing things was working well. Glad to hear about it and glad to know the change has been positive for the most part.
Many of those changes have been agronomic. With farmland the biggest investment, either purchased or rented, land has to produce a greater yield and that is done with data-driven agronomic changes. The electronic intelligence in tractor cabs is awe-inspiring to the novice, and a profit-generation center for the veteran. Kids who grew up with video games are now creating opportunities for farmers to nearly track every seed planted, ensure it has plenty of groceries during its life, with regular visits to the doctor to ensure it is in tip-top health.
And that is a choice of the younger generation of farmers, for the most part. That is what they are bringing to the table and serving their family. Armed with the technology to track every square centimeter of their farm electronically, younger farmers are improving the environment around every corn and soybean plant.
More and more farmers are farming with biologicals; adding microbes to the soil early in the year and letting a variety of “bugs” build families that help feed nutrients to roots of crops. Dirt is being removed from the dictionary, and replaced with the word soil, to ensure the agriculturally unwashed know that soil is alive, thriving in its own “microbosphere.”
The next step of the younger-thinking farmer is wanting to know what is going on inside the plant, an answer provided by tissue testing of leaves of plants. Such leaf samples will indicate if the plant is short of a particular nutrient, or will be short of a specific nutrient in a couple weeks that will retard the yield. More data and numbers to compare year to year that will indicate more accurate needs for nutrient application before the crop is planted.
And after the crop is harvested, many of those same screens hanging in the tractor cab will issue computer-based data that will either show a yield increase or send the decision maker back to the point in the production technology that needs some adjustment. Some members of the older generation may be able to keep up to some extent, but are glad to turn over the key to the tractor to someone who is comfortable in that atmosphere of swirling data.
Farm technology is changing at light speed and while many in the older generation of farmers understand the concept, more and more are becoming more at ease with turning over that technology to someone more adept in using it; like someone who has grown up with data at light speed.
But there is another facet which is important to the discussion, and that is the vast array of new business models being employed in agriculture. Farmers no longer have to buy land, buy equipment and then farm. Speaking to a young agribusiness entrepreneur recently who had worked with a colleague adept at designing medical technology, the two created a device to be tossed into a grain stream flowing into a bin that would digitally report on the quality of the grain. Does a farmer buy or rent these from your company? “No, we have a different business model that is just as creative as the sensors.” And the 24-year-old, soon-to-be-millionaire was off to think up some new gadgets that will not only make him more money, but also solve headaches for his father’s generation of farmers.
Agriculture today is not only feeding the world, fueling its vehicles, and clothing its people, but also providing opportunities for a new generation of agribusiness people to make their mark and improve on that food, fuel, and fiber and add value to the entire equation. For those unaware of what is happening in today’s agriculture, being exposed to it puts them agog and adither. For those who are familiar with it, and learning about the new technology, it is wet-your-pants excitement.