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What’s ahead for agriculture? 4 predictions for 2020

Will ‘uncertainty’ become “the new normal?”

2019 delivered a lot of uncertainty to farmers. One thing you can bank on in 2020 is more of it, especially around weather, tariffs, and lending. What will help? More data being accessible to growers, retailers and financial service providers. Accurate data holds the key to less uncertainty and a positive outlook for the coming year. Here’s one set of observations from a leading agribusiness exec:

Consumers will have a bigger impact on your business in 2020. Food companies are feeling a lot of pressure from consumers who want to know more about the food on their dinner table -- and they’ll look to you for more insight. Growers will need to supply data directly, as “traceability” becomes more important.

In 2020 and beyond, growers will play a bigger role in the agricultural value chain amid increasing consumer and industry demand for accurate and timely crop traceability. Food companies are increasingly paying attention to the ‘transparency generation,” a category of consumers that make food purchase decisions based on its origin and how it is cultivated and packaged. Ingredient origin will increasingly be used as a marketing tool for a growing number of consumers who care about the way the food they consume is grown and raised.

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Agricultural financing services will get better, easier. Better crop insurance, loans and better business relationships, will become a click away in 2020. Crop insurance and financing will get personal in 2020. With the proliferation of digital farming tools leveraging field-level data and predictive models, growers now have the option to share their data with participating insurance and credit union finance partners -- but only if they so desire.

We will start to see new tailored offerings that leverage this rich new source of data, while offering better risk management, data transparency and the elimination of paper-based transactions for more efficient, streamlined operations. The rise of digital farming will also enable growers in emerging markets such as Brazil — which have little or no crop insurance today — to embrace new, data-driven insurance products.

How smart is “smart technology” if I have to tell it what to do? Machines that gather data -- and then make actual decisions -- is the promise of artificial intelligence, but we’re not there yet. However, automation will get smarter and machine learning will evolve. In 2020 we’ll see a dramatic increase in the use of machine learning that mines data for trends and makes recommendations back to the growers.

In addition, we may see bigger drone payloads in Brazil and Eastern Europe in 2020 but government regulations will continue to limit drone size in North America. And automated vehicles like driverless tractors will get closer to becoming a reality.

Drastic weather will continue to change the rules in 2020. Everyone looks to the skies for a prediction on the weather, but I suggest looking not just to the skies but also to the ground -- to the data you’re harvesting right on your farm. More farmers will accept that they must prepare for more adverse weather events. Farmers will increasingly see data, and the investment in digital farming tools, as the best way to manage their operations and fight the effects of drastic weather. For instance, on the heels of the exceptionally wet spring and summer of 2019, U.S. growers understood the limitations that local weather station data provided. Only on-farm weather capabilities, which can detect micro-changes in field conditions on a zone by zone basis, will provide the insight farmers need to manage more complex and nuanced weather-related decisions like planting and harvesting.

Wade Barnes is CEO and co-founder of Farmers Edge, a digital agriculture company that enables growers to increase production and grow more with less. In his spare time, you can find him at his farm in Birtle, Manitoba, where he farms wheat, canola, barley, and peas.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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