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Corn+Soybean Digest

How Technology Is Impacting The Ag Industry

One of my students enrolled in our Farm Credit University course asked an interesting question. How is technology impacting the agriculture industry? Well here are a few brief observations.

  • First, a drive by a soybean field in the Midwest or a cornfield in the eastern Corn Belt only tells part of the story. Fewer weeds, higher yields, less time to plant and manage the crop. Soybeans are now being grown in upper Canada. Producers are now retiring in their 70s and 80s because of less labor-intensive agriculture.
  • Technology is bringing a completely new energy to youth in agriculture. Young people are taking a long look at the agriculture industry as life sciences, producing food, fiber and fuel. Some are exploring niche markets like organic, local or natural, while others are producing specialty crops for alternative energy on international markets, or contracts for specific attributes for multinational firms.
  • Watching a Canadian producer generating best-average and worst-case financial outcomes based upon currency valuation changes around the globe on his laptop was eye opening. Twenty years ago, this was only a vision to a few academics and industry leaders. My fear is that one becomes so focused on technology that they drown in data yet are starved for organized information that is useful in decision-making. Good old common sense still prevails.
  • This summer I observed the 8-minute loan acceptance in front of one of my many agrilending classes based upon a few key points of financial data. You might ask, will this lead to a credit crunch in agriculture if the economy goes south? Not if lenders offer terms and conditions along with analysis consistent with sound agrilending principles.
  • Finally, this year I have conducted nearly 15 webinars to people all over North America from my office in Blacksburg, VA. Again, this was only a dream five years ago. It sure beats flying!

Wow! Think what the next 15 years will bring!

Side Note:

The other evening on a Northwest commuter flight, the ground air conditioning unit was not working well. Someone on the plane could measure the temperature: 109 degrees with a closed cabin. I wish every airline executive and Washington politician had to fly, then maybe we would get some action. Talk about children and animals in an overheated vehicle. How about the people on the plane?

Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, The Corn And Soybean Digest Trends Editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at sullylab@vt.edu.

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