This week I took part in a media summit put on by BASF, and while you wouldn't think a crop protection company would be having conversations about farm machinery, it happens. During a panel on the future and advancements in farming, Kip Tom and his son, Kyle, spoke on a panel that looked at what it really means to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
The Tom operation encompasses 18,000 acres in northern Indiana, and they have land in Argentina. Kip openly says he runs his farm like a manufacturer - a perspective that shows at its core how much farming has changed. What was fun to hear during the panel discussion, which also included a futurist by the way (we'll talk about that in a later blog) was the enthusiasm of Kip and Kyle. They're enjoying farming, and yet with all their growth and investment they still marvel at the changes they've seen.
"When I graduated from high-school [in the 1970s] we didn't even have a combine. We had a two-row picker," says Kip. "And we were spraying with a pull-behind sprayer with a 20-foot boom."
Son Kyle, says he didn't image just a few years ago that he'd be relying on auto-steering systems and swath control on his operation to boost precision considerably.
Made me think a bit about the changes we've seen in a single farmer's career. From a two-row picker on a small acreage to an 18,000-acre business that fully deploys the latest in farm technology is pretty astounding. The pace of change makes some uncomfortable, and for others it's a blazing opportunity to move ahead.
For Tom Farms LLC the business doesn't hesitate to bolster its business by new tech tools, but Kip and Kyle go beyond that. "I want to think like a manufacturer, so we look outside of agriculture when we need people," Kip says. Sure, an agronomy degree is important but the Toms also see value in employees with a process background that can bring new ideas forward.
Embracing change, growth and technology are important tools for reaching production goals needed to feed those 9 billion people by 2050. Kip made an interesting assertion about those days in the 1970s: "Our average corn yields then were 73 bushels per acre, today on our farm we're averaging close to 200 bushels per acre," he says. That's a doubling in a single lifetime, so he is optimistic that U.S. producers can double that again in another 30 years - that'll be Kyle's legacy (or perhaps his sons').