Our Farming Future May Be Beyond Our Imagination

Markets remained volatile this week. You think? Let me tell you, it’s been a violent roller coast ride as corn, soybeans and wheat have swung wildly, as the algorithms were almost like getting emotional. I had one Ontario farmer lament to me last week, he couldn’t stand it anymore. I don’t really know what that means, other than the fact, he’s got lots sold and he had other tasks at hand. Ditto for your loyal scribe this week.

As you all know, I’m managing my 40th crop so that takes the majority of my time always. Ontario had a bit of a frost event over the past week and that certainly sent a shiver up my spine. Frost events are far more common in Western Canada, not so much in SW Ontario. In any case, lots of soybeans and corn were replanted in Eastern Ontario. Down in the southwest where I farm, not much frost damage and crops are enjoying moisture and heat. We’ll see what June brings.

It will be a month of spraying for me after a couple months either preparing to plant or planting. I often think of how things have changed over the period of my career on the farm. The other day as I side-dressed nitrogen on one of my corn fields, the concessions were full of big self-propelled sprayers patrolling the countryside looking to apply fungicide to SRW winter wheat fields. As I started side dressing, I could hear the hydrostatic motors roar from down the road, where my wheat was about to get fungicide. Speed and efficient count for something and the advent of these high-powered self-propelled sprayers have certainly changed the management paradigm on the farm. My wheat was done in a jiffy.

Of course, the jiffy still means it all has to make agricultural economic sense and with wheat prices where they are, it does. Simply put, times change, and the proverbial challenge is to keep up with it and stay within those agricultural economic parameters. Any incremental increase in cost must be overcome by an incremental increase in revenue from employing all this new technology. Seeing that thru over a career has been difficult.

I say that because how much of a visionary are you? Or more to the point, was I a visionary 40 years ago, when the world was very much different. For instance, this year I set the guidance on my tractor and will set it on my combine to guide me down the field. I access touchscreen computers to help me out, which monitors all aspects of the machines, so I run at top efficiency. My fertility is determined using soil tests, but also with the aid of something called Google Earth and the occasional drone. That sets up variable rate prescriptions for fertilizer and so on and so on. This is 2021.

Needless to say, I don’t own or want a smart phone. I’m sure I’m also a work in progress for many of you. The question I often ask younger farmers, what will the farming world be like when you plant your 40th crop? I can’t even imagine, but I got a vision of it the other day when I read Matthew Wilde’s article, “Drones Swarm Farm Fields” on my DTN. In the article Matthew documents how 3 drones work together to spray and seed fields.

In the piece, Wilde introduces Michael Ott, CEO of Rantizo, has developed technology and equipment to spray and seed fields efficiently. He described a case where 3 drones work together and are capable of applying herbicides, fungicides, nutrients and cover crops. By using multiple drones in “swarms”, they can get over more acres. Imagine the other day, a drone applying nitrogen to my corn, while another swarm of drones down the road, apply fungicide on my wheat. I can hardly imagine, but it’s obvious, that’s my problem. With the new technologies available in 2021, I need to expand my vision. I’m limited by my own mindful limitations.

What’s that mean? It means I need to change with the times some more. It means all of us need to. There is so much new technology today to employ on the farm, that I couldn’t’ t even imagined 40 years ago when I planted my first crop. What comes after the agricultural drone swarms? How about something to control the weather?

I haven’t even began to refer to 5G, 6G, or any other G that might come in the future. Surely those new internet speeds will enhance things. How about hopping on a new United Airlines supersonic flight in 2029 and travelling in half the current flight time, at 60,000 feet where you’ll see the curvature of the earth? NBC news tonight reported on United ordering 15 supersonic plants from start-up Boom Aviation.

In these Covid times, the rates of change are accelerating. Think of what the vaccines have done, vs the time when Covid started and there was no way out. The challenge for farmers is to embrace these changes and focus your vision on the future. It’s not always about price volatility and frost events. Sometimes it’s about things you can’t even imagine. Surely, they will be coming to a farm near you soon.