58,000 new jobs: The cost of farming vs increased demand for food – Surviving the tug of war

corn wheat farming agriculture agdnaLast Monday a new report on the employment outlook of the Agricultural Industry was released by Purdue University’s College of Agriculture, with funding support from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Food Institute.

The report, outlining a 5 year job projection within the food, agricultural and renewable resources sectors, concluded that another 58,000 jobs will become available annually in the United States.

According to Purdue University, the new employment opportunities reflect the growth within the food industries, in particular the need to support the commercialization of food as the population increases.

The report paints an interesting picture that is a stark contrast to the reality of the agricultural sector at the present time; farmers are watching their yields shrink, while at the same time they watch the cost of running their farm increase.

So while the new jobs are an indicator that the world’s demand for food is increasing, unfortunately it also reminds us that the pressures that prevent farmers from supplying food is unrelenting. The industry is currently caught in the midst of a tug of war, with the persistent boom in food commercialization on one side, and a team of beleaguered growers and farm operators defiantly tugging in the opposite direction on the other side.

Unfortunately in this game of tug of war the farmers can never win, the best they can hope for is to keep their footing long enough to prevent the collapse of supply.

The cracks are beginning to show – right now in the United Kingdom, figures from DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) show that in the past 12 months, revenue derived from farming has dropped 4.4% – these figures show an alarming trend, because last year the UK experienced its best weather for decades, and reported higher than average yields.

Right now it appears it’s all a game of numbers, with the drop in commodity prices seemingly to blame for the shift in farmer’s fortunes. Unfortunately the buck doesn’t stop there, because from an agribusiness point of view the fall in commodity prices stem from an oversupply of produce from cheaper markets.

Hence, the tug of war continues – demand increases, and so does supply, and the more the two go up the less profitable commodities become if the current trend continues.

So while it’s obvious new business models for the industry need to be generated, there are ways that farmers can see an instant change in profitability in the short term.

The Solution – Better Farm Managementnight farm plating soy tractor

It’s somewhat a slap in the face to suggest to growers that they can better manage their farms; in fact most farms operate to their upmost financial and technological capacity. There are however new methodologies currently in practice that can trim operating costs even further, and don’t require anything more than a willingness to adopt new technologies.

The Software Solution

It’s easy to believe that software requires extra input – one of the biggest reasons to shy away from software farm management is the notion that it requires more work on top of existing duties. Good farm management software is automatic, requires little to no manual input, and automatically links to existing farm machinery.

So what does farm management software do? In short it takes every element of your farm, such as machine usage, supply costs, field expenditure etc, and compares the data to the overall profitability of real-time commodity prices. This way you can fine tune your production costs to the nth degree and squeeze dollars out of areas of your farm that previously were not being recorded or handled accurately.

For instance, by accurately tracking vehicle movements seasonally you can save on future fuel supply costs by isolating the amount of acres worked and automatically comparing that to your vehicle’s miles/gallon gas mileage. A good software package should then be able to accurately predict the amount of fuel you’ll need for the next season.

The same example works for things like seed application or spraying – by tracking exactly how much you use, the software can automatically predict how much you’ll NEED to reach your seasonal yield target.

It’s these small tweaks that help tip the favor in the ongoing tug of war.

Some software packages however are expensive, while other like AgDNA are free and don’t require any payment at all. Of course AgDNA isn’t just a standard farm management package, it’s actually a tool that also links to your mobile device through a mobile application; something that ties in perfectly with the next farm management type.

Plug-and-Play mobile devices

The term plug-and-play may seem a little outdated these days, but the sentiment remains – automated devices that fit into existing architecture and work straight away without any external requirements.

These days the best plug and play technology is our pre-existing mobile devices like Smart Phones and Tablets. Loaded with the right apps, they can use GPS tracking to accurately record your location in the field, and send that back to an online server or your existing farm management software.

In other words, by fixing your phone or tablet onto your machinery, you can automatically record your vehicle mileage and start plotting movements accurately on a map. With automatically updated maps, you can start visually comparing your movements each season against the season before, giving you a complete digital overview of your farm.

Precision Packages

A Precision Package is actually just a mixture of the first two examples; however it’s probably the most effective methodology in reducing the operational costs of your farm.

In essence, what they do is tie all your existing farm data together and present it on a single platform.

AgDNA for example, is a mobile software package that is partnered with equipment manufacturers like John Deere, that will send all the data being recorded directly by the machine into an online account. In other words every time you use your farm machinery, the fuel usage, the seed and spray application, the hours worked, the mileage, the percentages of the tank mix, EVERYTHING, is sent to an online database for the farmer to generate reports from.

The AgDNA package will then overlay all this information onto a map, so you can visually perceive all of your farming activities. But AgDNA doesn’t just overlay machine data, it can also tie in data from other devices and services such as weather (from Weather Decision Technologies), moisture reports, soil survey data, and information from probe devices in-field.

A good Precision Package, like AgDNA, can then take all of that raw data and start making projections for upcoming seasons, taking into account real-time information like commodity prices and weather conditions. Essentially, the more data that goes in, the more detailed the information that comes out the other end.

In the end, efficiency is the key to better farm management.

AgDNA is free to download for iPhone, iPad and Android Devices. You can also view your account online at the AgDNA website.

Ending the Tug of War

Farming conditions are slowly changing, and not just in a financial sense – right now the south west of the United States is facing an ecological change in farming conditions. Australia and South America too are about to feel the effects of El Nino, with drought expected to start taking its toll on the agricultural centers of northern Australia.

So while ecology doesn’t aid the demand for food directly, it does affect the supply.

New methodologies in combating finances are a must; you see, the desire for better farm management techniques is not derived from a grower’s ability to be competitive, but is derived from a genuine concern that both their business and livelihoods are at stake in the current economic downturn. In other words better agribusiness models are required to not only stop the agricultural sector from sinking, but to stop the lives of the families invested within it from sinking too.

To summarize – while the current situation in agriculture may look bleak, Software Management, Device Management, and Precision packages provide farmers with an effective means to adding weight into the tug of war, and fixes such as AgDNA need to be explored in greater depth as permanent solutions to the problem of handling farm efficiency.

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Why you’re wasting time by not adopting Precision Agriculture – How managing data is changing the face of your agribusiness

Hardware and the great divide

The old adage of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”, these days is seemingly nothing more than a bandaid that covers up our own apprehension – it’s a slogan that isn’t just characteristic of luddites, but also of the thousands of farmers and agricultural professionals that understand the need for change, but also understand the financial risk involved in taking the next step.

It’s a fine line – most of us know how far technology has come, but we also know that beyond the financial investment is the knowledge that as the gadgets begin to pile up, there is no easy way to tie in, manage, and truly understand all of the excess data.

Well, to be honest, that’s not exactly true…

You see the issue of why your data is scattered all over the place comes back to the hardware manufacturers – GPS tracking systems, moisture probes, third party weather instruments, and scouting hardware are great examples of technology that advances your farm manageability, the problem is however the competing market means there is little to no cohesion in the data.

This of course makes it harder for people trying to effectively manage their agribusiness.

In other words the potential for investment in precision agriculture is there, but the sheer size and girth of the ag-tech market is what drives our apprehension.


However, it’s worth the risk: Proven correlation between adoption and profit.

The statistics are there, and they definitively show an increase in the adoption of precision-ag techniques, and a correlation to increased yields.

The 2013 Purdue University Precision Agriculture report has clearly shown that, “Profitability of precision agriculture is site-specific, and there is a strong relationship between estimated profits and adoption” (Source: http://www.ecpa2013.udl.cat/)

A key phrase from the above statement is that precision-ag is ‘Site specific’, meaning the technology itself doesn’t rely on pre-set components; instead the technology moulds itself to the conditions that are specific to the boundaries of its surrounding environment.

pivot irrigation data agriculture crops Crop Data GPS AgricultureGPS data crop field farm

 

 

 

Examples of Site Specific data – from AgDNA

AgDNA (http://www.agdna.com) above is great example of this spatial data at work – it’s an example of hardware creating valuable data, and a single mobile application to draw it all together effectively.

Writing on the effectiveness of precision-ag irrigation data, the editor of Crop Metrics (http://cropmetrics.com/view/news/) compares PDS (Precision Data Specialists) to the ant in the fable of The Grasshopper and the Ant – they noted that businesses that use a PDS save 1-3 revolutions per pivot on their crop management, and save an average of $10,000/yr alone on the cost of wages when manually collating data.

The Holy Grail – Why it’s important to have a single industry standard data collation tool

With all of the above in mind, we can start to see the importance of a single entity that is able to tie in unconnected data – it’s become the holy grail of agribusiness; a unified platform that is able to read all of the previously unconnected data from your hardware devices and present them in a single easy to use software package.

Unlike Einstein’s fevered attempts to unite science in an elegant universe, the task of bringing together spatial data is slowly becoming a reality.

Hence, it’s important to adopt precision agriculture now – while hardware may seem unconnected, the reality is the data they produce is more valuable then we realise. The expansion of software technologies means that raw data from the field can be extrapolated in numerous ways; imagine:

  • Combining current yield results to future weather patterns and soil conditions to be able to accurately predict future yields
  • Being able to automatically manage your planting timetables with upcoming seasonal weather cycles
  • Having the ability to react to current moisture conditions on the fly, more effectively managing your time in the field
  • Effectively removing human error in manual record keeping systems

AgDNA is a great example of a Spatial Data Aggregator (SDA) in action – a mobile application that automatically collates all of your important reports while in the field, and automatically keeps records of vehicle movement.

AgDNA is also free. You can grab it from the App store here

To summarise, precision agriculture is a wise investment – while the apprehension of disorganised data may play a large part in whether farmers adopt the technology, SDA tools like AgDNA are paving the way to make that issue disappear.

And the Holy Grail may yet prove to be more than mere myth.