U.S. Agriculture: Questions Abound

You can ask my loving and tolerant wife and she’ll tell you … it’s been a summer of travel like I haven’t experienced in some time.

And as I write this, I’m devising my plan of attack for the big monster summer farm event, the Farm Progress Show. Ag companies are sending out invitations to visit booths at a dizzying pace, and conversations with growers at the show are always fascinating. 

Travel this summer provided some answers for me about the direction U.S. agriculture is heading, but also created a number of questions I’m thinking about as we begin our charge through harvest and into another winter planning season:

What will grower sentiment be like going into next year? Driving around the Midwest this summer was generally a depressing experience, with crispy, burnt out corn and thirsty soybeans as far as the eye could see. We talked to as many folks as we could at every stop, and while the drought served to slow conversations with growers down about plans for next year, no one seemed concerned that there would be a significant change of course in expenditures.

What we really haven’t seen in recent years is the impact a generalized “bumper crop” would have on crop prices in this new era of steady high demand and high cost of production. The battle cry for row crop farmers hasn’t varied from “full speed ahead and steady as she goes” for some time.

How will Monsanto’s foray into precision affect retailers? By 2014, Monsanto plans to have fully launched its Inte­grated Farming System program, which I anticipate will be creating some major waves for the entire crop production channel. Early discussions will be about plant population and depth recommendations, but you could imagine that being taken much farther.

Monsanto’s investments in technology and research are dead serious, and could lead to challenging conventional wisdom about row width, tillage strategy … I’m willing to bet that everything will be on the table for re-evaluation.

Finally, what’s the impact of bringing this information to growers on the relationship with trusted advisors like retailers? We’ll be watching this very closely.

Who will win the race to connectivity? During the next year or so, we’re going to see a lot of connectivity solutions roll out from manufacturers. This summer, I got a peek at the plans that John Deere has for its FarmSight offering (which will center around its own dealer network).

I also flew to Sioux Falls, SD, to get an update on what’s happening with Raven’s Slingshot connectivity program. The remote service aspect, which allows Raven tech support to emulate field computers and fix problems with equipment virtually anywhere in the world, was pretty slick. And at Farm Progress, I know Trimble is unveiling more details on Connected Farm.

It remains to be seen who will emerge as the leader, but this is a frontier in agriculture of immense importance. If they fail to meet expectations, it will set technology adoption back.

There’s some questions from summer that was. I’m looking forward to getting some answers in the months ahead.

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