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Commentary: The Perspective of Nostalgia

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By Gary Truitt

The past few weeks, I have been a bit nostalgic. This was prompted by two events. On September 18, Hoosier Ag Today began its 15th year. At about the same time, it was announced that I was being inducted into the Farm Broadcasting Hall of Fame. The former had me looking back 15 years and the latter 40 years. While the memories were far more good than bad, I also noticed how some things in agriculture had changed and others had not.

Pointing to things that have changed is easy. Just think back to how we farmed 15 years ago. When Hoosier Ag Today started we were at the beginning of the biofuel revolution in Indiana. Over the past 15 years, an entire new market has developed for Indiana corn. This market now accounts for nearly half of our annual state production. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture was in its infancy with only a handful of employees and no budget. Today it is a major force in helping to drive the continued growth of Hoosier agriculture, from food processing to locally grown and marketed crops.

No till was being used on some farms, but over the past 15 years has seen a dramatic rise in Indiana along with a rapid growth in the use of cover crops. This was made possible by the Indiana conservation partnership involving local, state, and federal agencies. It is a model developed in Indiana and now emulated around the nation. Soil health is a concept that has received a lot more attention in Indiana than in many other agricultural states.

Big Data was a new topic of discussion 15 years ago, today it is a way of life for most farmers. Continued advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence have changed the way we manage our farming operations. Even the way we buy our inputs has changed as a result of technology. We can now buy seed, chemicals, farm equipment, and even livestock online from the phones in our pockets.

The adoption of electronic trading killed open outcry futures trading in grains and livestock and ushered in the age of computer trading. This increased the speed and volatility of the markets and gave farmers a whole new reason to ask “What the heck?” when trying to understand market reaction. A lot of the voices asking that question are female. Today more women are running farming operations, not just doing the books and bringing lunch to the field.

Yet, for all these changes and advances, some things are not much different than they were 15 years ago or even beyond. Profitability remains a serious challenge for many producers.  Productivity has been increased but profitability has not always followed. While some of the past 15 years have been good ones for farmers, many have not. As in the past, what determines the difference is often out of the hands of the farmers. From weather to trade policy to pandemics, the profitability of farmers and American agriculture has suffered.

Another thing that has been changed is the fickle nature of public opinion and understanding of agriculture. While consumers today say they are more interested in how their food is produced, their understanding of what that means is no better than it was 15 or 40 years ago. Their vision of food production remains rooted in the past while their demands for price, quality, and availability require a modern production system.

Finally, one thing has changed and also not changed.  In 2006, local radio stations around Indiana were, for the most part, still owned and run by people who lived in that community. They were focused on serving the needs and interests of the area they covered. They represented the primary source where farmers received timely news, weather, and market information every day. Today, corporations own these stations and, in many cases, the studios are not located in the area. The internet and mobile technology have put a world of information in the farmer’s hand. Yet, local radio remains the primary source for agricultural information. Hoosier Ag Today has put together a group of stations that still service their communities and each day delivers timely, relevant information to farmers over these local stations. The trust and credibility we have developed with our listeners is the thing of which I am the most proud.