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Commentary: Changes in Agriculture Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary


By Gary Truitt

It is the buzzword in the ag media, agricultural innovation.  Advances in technology and biology are generating a lot of excitement and talk about the ag tech revolution taking place.  When you get past the hype and talk with the men and woman who are actually working the land day in and day out, you hear a much different story. The geeks and the venture capitalists are quick to show off what their new ideas can do. Yet, the people who are actually involved in the doing are a bit more skeptical.

Farmers have demonstrated that they can be quick to adopt new technology when it has an immediate benefit to their operations.  Take glyphosate and the yield monitor, for example.  Within just a few years of its introduction, Roundup was being used exclusively on ¾ of the soybeans acres in this country, a decision we have now come to regret. Likewise, yield monitors became standard equipment in combine cabs almost overnight. However, data tools and artificial intelligence are taking longer to catch on.

Today, a plethora of on-line and tools and apps designed to give the producer more information and help with decision making are available. One of the few to gain mass recognition is easy, simple, and practical.  Farmers Business Network is a service that provides transparency to farmers on seed, chemicals, and other aspects of farming. A recent survey by J.L. Farmakis showed that 75% of farmers have heard of FBN. According to the research, the majority use the service to compare prices of crop inputs (85%) or to negotiate a better price from the input supplier (55%).

Uncertainty and unprofitability in many sectors of agriculture have prompted many farmers to take a more sober and serious look at their operations. In some cases, adopting new technology can result in an improvement in efficiency and profitability; but, more and more, this is being measured against the reality of cash flow, balance sheets, and ROI. Advancements in technology and innovation will continue to change agriculture as we move forward, but not at the pace some believe. It took the telephone 55 years from its invention until it was in common use. Social media took far less time. Nevertheless, I feel the technological changes coming to agriculture will be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Another evolutionary change

For the past 20 years, I have been writing this weekly column. When I started, I never dreamed I would still be doing it this long. I also never believed people would actually read most of my 1020 columns. While I will continue to write this column, beginning this month I will be cutting back to every other week. While this is a difficult choice, the challenging times in the ag media industry are forcing me to spend more time running my business and a bit less time running my mouth.