Recently, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) released a white paper on their predictions for the top trends impacting the future of food production. Intrigued, we wanted to know more. Read on for our conversation with Curt Blades, Senior Vice President of Agriculture Services & Forestry, on the number one most important trend for Illinois soybean farmers, and what you should do about it on your farm.
Curt, your white paper talked about the 13 trends impacting the future of food production. Which of those do you think is most likely to impact Illinois soybean farmers in the near term?
In my opinion, the most universal trend of the whole piece is doing more with less when it comes to agriculture. That sounds really basic, and it’s something we hear all the time, but it also rings true. We’re producing more crops with less resources because of sustainability reasons, because of global pressures, because the population is growing and we have only so much land.
How should this tenet change how Illinois farmers think about their operations?
Diesel fuel is twice the price that it was this time last year, however, the new Tier 4 engines are 20 percent more efficient than the previous generation. So the ripple effect is, as a farmer, I wasn’t thinking about upgrading my machine before, but now that diesel fuel prices are where they are, maybe it’s time for me to do so, and in the process of me doing that it, it allows me to do an upgrade to maybe take advantage of precision ag technology.
Then, when you dive into precision ag technology, now all of a sudden I can get more productive off of the same acre and potentially use less. Even better, because fertilizer prices are so high, now you’re all of a sudden using less active ingredient because the machine can do some of the work.
How can farmers be proactive and take control of their direction?
Add to this idea of doing more with less the other kind of promise of a carbon market, and maybe there’s revenue for a farmer to make off of selling their carbon or selling their carbon data specifically. So that’s where you get to think about the fundamentals of doing more with less and the ripple effect of what that looks like.
You know, as a farmer, my margin was always making money off of selling a bushel of soybeans. Now suddenly, I make a little bit of money selling my beans, but I also make a little bit of money selling my carbon. I make a little bit of money doing this and a little bit of money doing that, and all of a sudden, my net farm income might be the same or it might be higher, but the sources that generate that net farm income are very different.
Is there anything that would change how this looks for Illinois farmers in the coming years?
You know, our climate is changing, whether it’s man-made or not doesn’t really matter. Our climate is changing, and so the geographic shifts of production are something that I think Central Illinois farmers would be wise to pay attention to.
You know the “I” states have always been known for growing corn and soybeans better than anybody else, anybody else in the world; we still continue to do so. However, that Corn Belt continues to shift just a little bit farther north.
For instance, Monsanto is doing some interesting work on short corn hybrids. It’s very, very intriguing stuff when you think about the fact that a short plant doesn’t require as much water as a tall plant. Suddenly, that makes somewhere like Kansas competitive to Central Illinois for corn. That changes the dynamics.
There’s a truth we just can’t necessarily ignore – that the geographic shifts in production are real.
What should farmers be doing about geographical shifts in production?
I don’t know that farmers need to do anything other than pay attention to it. It’s more like let’s look at where the traffic flows, how much of our rail system or the river system has been built to that. I grew up in Northeast Missouri. We would ship our soybeans to the river, something a lot of folks in Illinois do. It’s not a change that’s going to happen overnight, but it’s something that farmers need to pay attention to and making sure that they are growing the right crops for the markets in their area.
Precision ag is tied closely to the “do more with less” theme. How do you see farmers using it?
Think of the production growth that we’ve seen as a result of Roundup Ready soybeans for example, and then go on from there. It’s remarkable. Farm productivity has gone through the roof. That’s had a ripple effect on other things like land prices and inputs.
I think we find ourselves at that exact same crossroads today on the equipment side with precision agriculture, with the proliferation of data being available everywhere and wireless connectivity being available everywhere. It sort of changes the fundamentals of how crops are grown when there are multiple ways in which you can get your crop in and out, some using chemicals and fertilizers and mechanization, some using sensors and data to do a better job.
So we’re back to trend #1: Doing more with less.
Exactly. We’ve got to be in front of those trends and also educating our farmer customers so that they are prepared to deal with those trends.