The Next Farm Hand

Innovations in technology must continue to help secure a strong future for the U.S. agriculture industry.

Mike Johanns, Image provided by Mike Johanns

American farmers and ranchers are facing more pressure than ever.

Technological developments in the agriculture sector have created heightened yield expectations. Those expectations are mixed with a call for environmentally friendly farming practices and increased attention to addressing problems like world hunger. Those who work in agriculture are in a tight spot.

The solution? Increasing support for those working in agriculture so they have the best science and technology available to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Growing up on a 30-cow dairy farm in Iowa, I’ve seen just how much technology has woven its way into the agriculture sector in the U.S. Now, the average dairy farm houses hundreds, if not thousands, of cows and leverages science and technology on a daily basis. Technology’s place in agriculture goes far beyond just the dairy farms of America, with the food and agriculture technology markets projected to reach approximately $730 billion by 2023.

This market opportunity has created a surge in popularity for the ag tech sector. Just this past March, South by Southwest (SXSW), the Austin, Texas-based festival that features celebrity panelists, music events and exhibitions on the world’s latest tech developments, held a session on how technology is reshaping the American farm.

The speakers included a hog farmer who is the managing partner for two family farms in Edgerton, Minnesota. Not the typical speaker you’d find at SXSW. The kicker? The event was so popular that it became standing room only. But, this opportunity isn’t just popular because of the flashy technology that’s being integrated into farms across the country. Its popularity is driven by results.

NUMBERS THAT BACK THE NEED TODAY

A University of Nebraska study on precision agriculture usage and big-agriculture data showed 70% of respondents had increased profits because of the use of precision agriculture by increasing efficiencies and decreasing input costs. Of the people included in the study, 95% indicated their investment in precision agriculture was worth it.

While these figures should certainly be taken as a sign of encouragement, in order for the U.S. to remain globally competitive, steps need to be taken to support technology’s place in the life of farmers and ranchers.

STRATEGIES FOR SUPPORTING THE SECTOR

Here are ways we can help bolster agriculture technology:

> Continuing investment in ag tech. According to Fast Company, the number of deals and dollars that have been put into this sector have gone from 12 deals in 2012 totaling $74 million to 62 deals in 2017 involving $437 million. These types of investments will only help to strengthen the technologies that push the sector forward.

> Increased focus on digital marketplaces. Opening channels for farmers to band together for more secure insurance opportunities, shared equipment costs and interactions with local customers will make the American farm even more agile than it is today.

> Connecting ag with Capitol Hill. Creating more streamlined means for these American businesses to engage with regulators will allow for an open dialogue surrounding the pain areas the sector faces and potential solutions for these problems, including potentially loosened regulations.

> Promotion of ag within tech incubators. When confronting the tech sector’s need to prioritize the agriculture industry, tech incubators should incentivize companies looking to improve the industry to be a part of their hub and offer tools necessary to help further their innovations that will impact America’s farms.

A LACK OF PRIORITY

Alex Heine discussed technology’s prioritization of different industries during SXSW’s panel on tech in agriculture.

“Agriculture was second to last on the list in terms of digitizing the technology. I find that pretty hard to believe, because we’ve been able to do so much and innovate. We’re trying to implement technologies, data, software in the systems to family farms,” he said. The automation of the tools farmers use every day and the software that supports them all need one thing to succeed: constant research and development. Looking toward the future, we need these innovations to continue now more than ever.

There’s no telling where the relationship between tech and agriculture will take the U.S. in the coming decades, but the seed for success has already been planted--we just need to we give that seed what it needs to grow.

Editor’s Note: Mike Johanns is a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and U.S. senator and governor of Nebraska. He is the Chairman of Agriculture for the alliantgroup.

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