Economic Tidbits

Farmers of the Future

Demographics, technology adoption, cultural influences, and global events all play a role in shaping change in today’s agriculture.

Change in agriculture and the future role of farm management extension programs was the focus of a series of articles in Choices, a publication of the American Agricultural Economics Association. The first article in the series focuses on what the extension audience, or farmers, might look like in 2030 and provides an interesting perspective on future producers and agriculture . . .  

“With the arrival of new technologies and the adoption of improved versions of existing technologies (i.e., variable rate applicators, planting units and irrigation equipment, robots in vegetable and horticulture production), fewer hours of direct field work will be required from a more specialized labor force, who will likely have to become conversant in the technology as much as in production biology. Farm operators would need to keep up with technological developments affecting the flow of farm data (i.e., data generation, transmission, storage, security, ownership, uses, and potential misuses) as well as technological developments affecting their production practices. The additional training will likely involve frequent updates from the usual technology providers (seed, chemical, and machinery dealers) and a currently incipient industry of ag-specific hardware and software providers for integrated production–marketing–financial decision making. This comparatively more skilled future farm labor force would face more opportunities to diversify income sources. Farmers willing to devote themselves full-time to farming will be able to diversify their income through the provision of precision ag services and custom farming for nonoperator landowners and through crop-share leases and consultancies to other operators, especially part-time farmers. Farmers with access to new technologies, a network of consultants and custom service providers, and high earning potential in off-farm careers will likely be able to successfully farm on a part-time basis either on their own by hiring custom farming services or through shared-risk arrangements with full-time farmers. Additionally, if farmers are able to claim and keep ownership of the data generated on their farms, selling such data might become a nontrivial source of farm income for both full- and part-time farmers . . .

Notably, the demand for specialized technicians, engineers, and other professionals who provide on-farm and off-farm services will likely increase. Widespread broadband access and improving sensors and automated systems will result in added flexibility to remotely control and manage an increasing number of acres and animals using more mechanized farming and ranching methods (e.g., through driverless machines and robotic milkers).” The Farm Management Extension Audience of 2030, Alejandro Plastina, Kelvin Leibold, and Mathew Stockton, Choices, American Agricultural Economics Association, 2019.

Time will tell how accurately the authors have predicted the future of farming and agriculture. Agriculture’s ancestors would be amazed with today’s farm and ranch operations. Likewise, today’s generation of producers will be amazed at what the future will hold.

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