Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Feeding the World Takes Incremental Improvements at the Farm Level

By Tyler Harris
Editor, Nebraska Farmer
Penton Ag

Farmers may not always consider themselves entrepreneurs or innovators, but they play a vital role in driving innovation nonetheless. Every day, producers make agronomic decisions on seed, fertilizer, water, pest management, and soil health, as part of the to meet the food demands of a rising global population, while continually working to improve efficiency, profitability and sustainability.

In his book, 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, Howard G. Buffett notes that farmers get approximately 40 seasons in their lifetime – 40 chances to grow a crop. That's why growers have to be innovative, making the most of the information they have to make decisions that bring the highest potential for return on investment.

Technology has a vital role to play here, and more and more entrepreneurs are realizing this – there's a reason parts of the Midwest are referred to as the "Silicon Prairie". In 2016, $3.23 billion was invested in ag tech startups, according to a report from Although a decline from a record-breaking $4.6 billion in 2015, this illustrates that investments in technology like remote-sensing, site-specific management, and data management and aggregation services, aren't going away anytime soon.

However, one of the biggest questions is whether or not producers are using this technology. Adoption is hard to measure, and the curve is different for everyone, but a couple trends are consistent. Producers have been quick to adopt and implement technology like GPS guidance and automatic section control. And although producers may be adopting "decision technology" like remote sensing and soil moisture sensors, where they are lagging behind is putting that technology to use in their decision-making.

These technologies don't come with an "easy button" for a quick return on investment, but enhance producers' abilities to make incremental improvements over the long-term through the decisions they make every day. As one agronomist put it recently, the big increases in efficiency and profitability won't be made by doing one thing 100% better, but 100 things 1% better.

As we celebrate National Ag Day, join me in thanking the producers that continually work to improve the efficiency, sustainability and profitability of their operations while helping feed a hungry world.