It has certainly been a mild start to 2023. We’ve had a bit of rain in southwestern Ontario over the last few days somewhat unusual for the middle of January. However, I cautioned a Manitoba grain merchandizer friend of mine living in Ontario to not get too used to this weather. Just like the Argentinian drought which is supposed to break in the next few days with welcome rains, surely Canadian winter is going to show up here soon. When that weather change comes, we will certainly have to get used to snow, cold weather and maybe a little bit of freezing rain into the mix.
If it was only so easy to control the weather, we would have our world in the palm of our hands. I don’t know if we will ever get there, but we are certainly forging ahead on other fronts. This past week I had my first experience with some artificial intelligence for the masses called ChatGPT. I must say it was a seminal moment for me. You can type in a few parameters into a dialog box and ChatGPT will produce almost anything for you including this column. The results from it gave me the impression that it was 1000 times better than a Google search. The implications for agriculture are almost endless. You can check it out yourself by going to www.openai.com/blog/chatgpt/
See for yourself but in layman’s terms it’s artificial intelligence that you can converse with. Think of it as talking to a machine and actually having a fairly normal conversation. That’s what it was like for me. Think of the technology embedded in your farm equipment, where you go out in the morning and tell the equipment what to do all day and all night and have the equipment do that task autonomously. Clearly, it’s almost mind boggling to imagine. However, we must remember that it is 2023 and we cannot be limited by our own imagination.
That is difficult for me. In fact, there was a time when I started writing this column that I could hardly imagine the year 2023. Change is the only constant we have on the farm, but sometimes those changes are more exponential than our minds can get around on. I remember very clearly the first time I set up light bar guidance on one of my tractors about 20 years ago. I was spraying late into a June night with the long days. That night I went even farther into the night when darkness surrounded me. My plan was to drive the tractor down the field with no lights on knowing perfectly well I was making a straight line with my spray pattern.
I had set the light bar up earlier in the day with the guidance satellites. As the time came and darkness fell, I took time to take a picture of what I thought was a truly transformation moment on the farm. After I took the picture, I got up into the tractor and went down the field where I shut all the lights off and I was just amazed that I was being guided through the field without any need to see where I was momentarily going. Of course, in later years that technology translated into autosteer, which is the 8th wonder of the world. To me, when I turned the lights off in that tractor it was like the first moments when my grandfather went from using horses to tractor power. That night, I imagined it was similar transformational moment for me.
Of course, technology is one thing that brings change to our farming world but there also are other changes in our geopolitical world which change our markets and our outlook. For instance, over a 36-year career of writing this column the advent of biofuels and the ethanol revolution revolutionized grain farming in North America expanding the industrial use for both corn and soybeans. This led to an unprecedented increase in the amount of corn acres grown in North America as well as around the world. Add to that all of the geopolitical events that have brought change to the marketplace, and we see agricultural production springing up globally in places that we could have never imagined many years ago.
Added to this long list affecting change on our farms is some of the current events over the last year. In many ways the Ukraine Russia war brought huge fracture and change to our grain market in 2022. In 2023 there are many analysts that feel that is dialed into the market prices we have at the moment and maybe even possibly for the rest of 2023. I feel differently. I think the war in Ukraine and Russia could get very much messier in 2023 and have an even bigger impact on our grain markets going forward. Wars are messy and this one is far from over.
So, as we move ahead into the end of January keep in mind that we should not be shackled by the limits of our imagination. I know that is hard to do firsthand. Keep in mind that change is inevitable, more or less. Just ask ChatGPT. Let me know, what it said. There are many more and better versions yet to come.