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We’re always in a state of transition, and it seems even more so over the past five years.

Tim Price, Executive Vice President

February 28, 2024

10 Min Read
Puppy winner
Page Manning, left, transitions into the role of new puppy owner as show manager Tim Price stands by at the Puppy Raffle during the 2023 Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.Stephanie Sokol

Transitions are defined as the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another. This is certainly true in our industry, in the world, and on the farm. 

It seems as if we’re always in a state of transition, and it seems even more so over the past five years. Ongoing rapid consolidation, driven by cost to integrate vertically and horizontally, generational change, and a broadening digital landscape, are just some of the transitions recognized as significant. Taken together, transitions can be overwhelming, difficult to comprehend and manage.

But I have found that moving through each transition creates a new level of resiliency. The key to traversing the transitions is not procrastination, avoidance, or generally doing just about anything but facing the reality of the transition and the challenges that come with it. We can’t stick our heads in the sand in hopes the transitions and challenges will abate and we’ll return to the agriculture we knew and were comfortable with. We know that isn’t how the world works, how progress occurs, or the way we continue to be a world agricultural powerhouse.

Transition

Can we transition in the middle of a transition? I believe we are doing just that. Agriculture is changing. The transitions we’re in the middle of now will continue to impact our decisions as new transitions and challenges emerge. Simply put, transitions are everywhere, and we need to be prepared for what is happening now and what will occur in the future.

Related:New exhibitors expand farm & gin show offerings

Generational transitions are taking place at an increasing rate. More and more, younger farmers are increasingly the decision makers while their parents or other relatives assume lesser roles in the operation. Perhaps dad helps with planting and harvest while an uncle drives the auger, picker, or grain truck during harvest.

Transitions are occurring in agribusiness and in the supplies and service sectors. One thing I’ve noticed is experienced field staff who worked on the ground with seed, safety equipment, agronomic recommendations, are choosing to retire. We’re losing a generation of experienced professionals who have a rich legacy, who worked on the front lines making sure you could do what you loved most: farm.   

Is it coincidence that the generational shift on today’s farms closely aligns with technological advances that provide opportunities to automate processes, even machinery and equipment? Computers are the foundation for almost every aspect of our lives, from our phones to our sprayers, combines, and farm vehicles. There are digital sensors that monitor fuel levels in bulk tanks and ensure on-time refills.

Related:Ag Trade Issues featured at Mid-South Farm & Gin Show

Gathering data

There is a lot of data-gathering at many levels. Companies are mining the data gleaned through precision agriculture programs and other technologies. Many farmers gather data from machinery, livestock ear tags, weather stations, drones, and more. Ask many farmers and you will likely hear there is room for improvement in learning to apply the insights from the data to their advantage. And even if farmers partner with ag companies on the data gathering, they’re not yet sold on sharing their data with those companies. I believe there’s more to be gained by sharing than from keeping their data private.

The COVID pandemic accelerated many farmers’ ability to sell direct to consumers, due largely to the expanded access to broadband and internet connectivity. Many farm operations today have websites and a social presence to share their experience with others, or to do business with new and different customers.

Automated machinery, smart irrigation and spraying systems, or driverless tractors, offer benefits to a farm operation. Increased efficiency and accuracy of some production practices can be realized, without the need to hire additional human labor.

Related:10 agtech startups selected for 2024 AgLaunch365 Accelerator

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) helps farmers in many areas, including detecting pest infestations, identifying areas of fields that need irrigation, and more. A recent article by Intellias predicted AI in agriculture can “increase yields, reduce costs, and develop a more sustainable ecosystem.”

“When combined with AI, precision agriculture can help farmers grow more crops with fewer resources. AI in farming combines the best soil management practices, variable rate technology, and the most effective data management practices to maximize yields while minimizing spending,” the article said.

AI could be especially helpful as the world population grows and farmers look for ways to increase crop production on fewer acres of farmland. AI is here now and as it is integrated into agriculture more; it is likely to be another revolutionary tool for farmers.

I have participated in several seminars on AI in agriculture. The experts were quick to dispel one of the myths of AI: that AI will replace you in your job. AI won’t replace you. However, if you don’t learn and use AI, you may be replaced by another human who knows and uses AI. There is still a human component to AI, knowing how to use AI to reduce redundancies, improve processes, and enhance efficiency, i.e. save time on the tasks in your job, will ease the transition to more automation.

Renewable energy

The emergence of wind and solar farms in the Mid-South calls attention to the demand for renewable energy sources. Solar panels are popping up on house roofs as well as farmland, providing energy for the property owners and beyond. Wind turbines, while not suitable for every location, are an option for some landowners.

We now have years of experience with solar and wind power being incorporated into modern agriculture. We have learned a lot and now have successful examples of where they have resulted in not only energy savings, but sound economic returns for the farmland and farm operation involved.

The challenge of this transition has been the land required to house renewable energy production. Ideally, wind turbines and solar arrays would be placed on marginal farmland, but that’s rarely the case. I am learning the delicate balance between preserving prime farmland and protecting a farmer’s rights to make the best decisions on how to best serve their operations and family legacy. It’s a difficult transition, to be sure.

Who owns American farmland, and the supply chain are a concerning transition for many. USDA reports that over 40 million acres of US agricultural land (forest land, cropland, pastureland, and non-ag land, such as rural roads and worker housing) is owned by foreign companies or investors.

Fifty percent of all foreign-owned ag land is owned by investors from Canada (largest owner of US ag land, at nearly 13 million acres), the Netherlands, Italy, United Kingdom, and Germany. Much of the concern about foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land is focused on China. However, China is way behind other countries and owns just 383,000 acres in direct ownership, according to USDA, or about 0.03 percent of all privately held U.S. ag land.

Ownership of the food supply chain is transitioning from one owned largely by food distributors, to a hybrid of food distributors and corporate suppliers. Walmart and Costco are venturing into the farm-to-store model, which includes the meat/poultry production space, opening plants that process, package, and deliver branded products to stores in specific regions, thus, controlling a portion of the supply chain. We can only expect this to continue as companies recover from pandemic-era supply chain challenges.

How we respond

Everything is swirling, we can’t see what’s ahead and that concerns us. We want to return to what we’re comfortable with, a “normal” that we know will never be. Simply, we want our world to be a better place for our children and grandchildren. We want a vibrant agriculture for those who choose to be a part of it.

How we navigate the transitions – how we respond -- will be key to developing further resiliency and emerging on the other side, however that may look. I think there are several key components to successfully navigating transitions:

  • Be aware of what’s occurring, prepare as best we can for the present and future transitions, even as those transitions transition.

  • We educate ourselves within agriculture and outside of our industry. Information shared at the Ag Outlook and other educational seminars at the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show offer expertise on the current and future state of the industry. Joe Nicosia will give the latest and highly respected insights into the global cotton industry, from what to expect in production and world supplies and what challenges farmers may face. Richard Brock helps farmers understand grain marketing challenges as well as provides an outlook on the economy. You can expect to hear Richard’s thoughts about current events, too, and how they impact agriculture. Milo Hamilton in his Saturday rice marketing seminar is considered a world rice expert. He brings a good understanding of global rice marketing techniques to the farm decision levels.

  • We participate in shaping the industry we want to see. We attend trade shows like the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. We are involved in organizations like Southern Cotton Ginners Association, National Cotton Council, and other commodity and state and regional ag organizations. We advocate on behalf of our industry and pursue better processes and better products to facilitate the transitions. 

  • We test new technologies and conduct field trials on new hybrids. We consider how automation and artificial intelligence can benefit our operations and the agriculture industry.

  • We plan for transitions and know it’s likely to look different as we move through the months ahead.

  • We develop a “can do” or growth mindset that positions us for future success.

Four years ago, I wanted nothing more than to ring in the new year. It was more than New Year’s resolutions or goals. I was done with 2020, done with the huge disruption we were experiencing. Each year since, I have found myself in a similar place, wanting to move into the next year, because next year had to be better.

A few months ago at the end of 2023, I realized that’s not a sustainable way of thinking. Wanting to leave a (challenging) year behind in hopes for better months ahead.

Well-known pastor and author Rev. Ron Dunn noted that our lives run on parallel tracks, with the good and the bad occurring simultaneously. This is a good description for me to picture. Years are not all bad or good. We can experience joy and heartache, success, and failure, sometimes within the same day.

The Mid-South Farm & Gin Show offers some comfort in an otherwise chaotic world. Through the show, we catch a glimpse of the future in terms of machinery, equipment, products, and services. We honor the 72-year tradition of the Mid-South’s largest indoor farm formed to provide educational exhibits that move our industry forward. And we’re excited to attend the show to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, sharing common experiences of farming, family, food, and more. We have over 60 new companies with new ideas and products. These new exhibits value the Mid-South ag market, and along with our returning exhibitors who have new products and services. 

Resiliency

We haven’t yet made it through the transitions that have been ongoing for nearly half a decade now. But I’m not as nervous or worried as I have been before. Here’s why: I recently read Episcopal priest and researcher Alice Updike Scannell (1938–2019) comments on radical resilience as the ability to endure, grow, and thrive through adversity:

“We usually think of resilience as the ability to recover from an adverse experience and pick up our lives where we left off. It is that too.… But there are times when adversity permanently changes our reality, and we can’t go back to the way things were.…

Resilience then becomes the work of coming through the adversity so that, at least on most days, we see our life as still worth living. With this kind of resilience, we come through the adversity knowing that we’re still ourselves, even though things are very different for us now.”

These words provide hope there’s a purpose for the transitions we face. Knowing we will be different on the other side. Our farms will be different. Our families will grow and change and transition to what’s next, because of the resiliency we have acquired as part of transitions. That resiliency can be passed onto generations.

Come and see us at the show and become part of a continuing viable, and healthy US agriculture. Welcome to the show!

About the Author(s)

Tim Price

Executive Vice President, Southern Cotton Ginners Association

Executive Vice President of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and Show Manager of the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

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