As with most industries, technology continues to impact the agricultural world, helping farmers automate some of their farming practices, such as crop monitoring. Agricultural drones are now able to collect crop and weather data. This is information you can use to evaluate and manage your operations, without having to physically visit every inch of your property. They can even be used to map difficult areas, or, deliver things when and where they are needed in the fields.
Digital information sharing and communication through virtual meetings via either your computer or phone have also become more commonplace since COVID-19 changed the face of how we communicate.
It’s likely that these trends are now here to stay as clients and consumers have found value in these time and resource-saving methods of communication. Technology permeates many aspects of farming today and staying abreast of the latest trends will help your business to remain competitive and profitable in the unfolding agricultural world of the future.
Regenerative agriculture is not only a top trend, but perhaps one that encompasses several of the trends below. By definition from Regeneration International, “Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” From improving the soil’s absorption of moisture to techniques that reduce the wear and tear on your equipment while reducing fuel needs, regenerative agriculture approaches can help both the earth and your business. Some consumers are looking for products that are grown and developed through sustainable practices, whether their focus is on health or combating climate change and their impact on the environment. Whether you approach this trend on a small or large scale, it is certainly one that cannot be ignored in the current agricultural industrial climate.
There have been many extreme weather events such as drought occurring more frequently in recent years, especially across prime agricultural areas in the West and Southwest. Learning how to become more water aware and utilizing best practices for water consumption are essential for the success of farmers and ranchers – and ultimately, consumers. The USDA’s SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) Program provides a 360 degree view for smart water use around:
● Soil Management
● Plant and Livestock Management
● Water Management
This includes recommendations for approaches such as low-elevation spray application (LESA) vs. central pivot systems for irrigation to help reduce the amount of water needed and resulting cost. There are also other recommendations for increasing organic matter in the soil and crop variants that can help optimize water use.
While fertilizers are necessary to increase production per acre and minimize waste, the effect on the ozone layer of nitrous oxide, a by-product of many nitrogen-based fertilizers, is one that must be considered. Optimizing usage may be done through a combination of soil management, crop rotation, and planting crops which naturally produce higher levels of oxygen. Though there are no easy answers, there are alternatives being studied and measured for effectiveness. Finding the balance between boosting production while offsetting these hazardous gases is becoming increasingly important as we look ahead to the coming seasons.
Where climate or land usage limitations may affect traditional farming, indoor vertical farming is opening the door to many farmers who are producing crops that would be difficult to grow using conventional methods. If your growing season doesn’t allow for growing lettuce or tomatoes most of the year, you may be able to “extend the growing season” and produce these crops indoors during the winter months. This could allow in-demand produce to be grown closer to the end consumer, even in urban areas, without it being shipped hundreds or thousands of miles across the country. There are potential costs and trade-offs, but may be interesting to keep in mind as you explore trends.
As you consider these industry trends, how do you see integrating some of them into your agricultural business? While each one will not apply to every situation, discussing these with your trusted advisors may help you identify the ones that can pay dividends for your farm or ranch.