I farm by myself. Or in other words I farm alone. There are some days when I hardly utter any words. I was thinking about that today as I finished planting approximately 120 acres of soybeans by myself. Back in the day, when I was a teenager, there were 4 of us working in the field at one time, my grandfather, my father, my brother and myself. We worked all day together hoping to get 50 acres planted. Oh, how things changed.
When I drive tractor on the farm whether it is spraying or planting I listen to Sirius satellite radio hooked into a pair of noise canceling headphones. It is a wonderful set up for me having listened to tractor radios since the 1970s with their constant jabber of pointless gibberish. I can listen to Bloomberg News, the CBC, the BBC, CNN or in assortment of other information and entertainment channels, all in great stereo while my headphones cancel out the noise from the tractor. It makes those long days a little bit shorter and helps me with research for all the other things that I do.
As farmers we have got more and more efficient. For instance today I was planting with a 20 foot no till drill into cornstalks, something I’ve done for quite some time. Planting 100 acres in one day is pretty easy; if you push it you can easily get 150 or 160 done. If you look at the farming neighborhood, the 20-foot drill is fairly common now with 30-foot drills starting to show up in the neighborhood. Yes, this is not the American Midwest, but it does show our drive toward efficiency. If I had a 30 foot drill, maybe 200 acres and one day would be a piece of cake.
Today, the satellite radio kept inundating me with news about the European train wreck specifically Greece. I have certainly heard enough about that lately and I was glad that the subject changed to the Facebook IPO happening tomorrow. Facebook, which essentially produces nothing, will have a market capitalization of about $100 billion on Friday. Meanwhile, I’m driving a tractor up and down Southwestern Ontario farm country trying to make a living. Don’t you think that I took a double take listening about that Facebook IPO? I could get by on $100 billion dollars really easy.
What I find interesting about where we find ourselves now is the dichotomy between our economies now versus our economy about 20 years ago. Facebook was not even on the radar screen 20 years ago but a month ago it paid $1 million for Instagram, a mobile picture editing application for smartphones. None of those things were even invented 10 years ago. Needless to say, these innovations, if that’s what we call it are worth billions. It makes me wonder what is the next big thing, which nobody sees now?
It is a difficult thing knowing what is ahead. If you had asked the four of us 35 years ago about planting 120 acres of soybeans in one day with one man, nobody would’ve believed it, including me. If I had brought up the subject of a smart phone, and a billion-dollar photo editing “do dad” worth $1 billion everybody would’ve called me loopy. So if you think I know what the future holds, I’m sorry, I’ll digress.
It is been explained to me that the great challenge that Facebook will have is monetizing their content on mobile applications. In other words how do they get paid for Facebook content on smart phones and tablets? I find that mind numbing just thinking about it. At the same time today while planting my soybeans I was able to order seed, communicate with family and manage future purchases and marketing orders by my handy cell phone. So maybe there are some similarities between the things we now take for granted on the farm and what Facebook is trying to do. I dunno.
Of course the question is can agriculture look toward a future of Herculean technological advances in 10 years time on the same scale as what we’ve seen with Facebook and Instagram? Or does MySpace come to mind, an older version of Facebook that did not finished well?
To me the answer is pretty clear. The classic SW Ontario 50 acres field was made for another time. In another 35 years, we’ll look back on the one man planting 120 acres in one day, as prehistoric. Ditto for Facebook. The hard part is having the vision to dream. As planters roll this week, consider our future.