Shane Hand left director of marketing for Bayer Crop Sciencersquos digital farming initiatives visits with Bert Fisher at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association

Shane Hand, left, director of marketing for Bayer Crop Science’s digital farming initiatives, visits with Bert Fisher at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association.

For farms of the future, innovation will be key

"The beauty of not knowing exactly what the future of farming is going to look like is that we can help shape that future," says Bayer Crop Science's Shane Hand.

What’s farming going to look like in the world of tomorrow — in the years leading to 2030, when it’s projected another 1 billion people will have been added to the population count?

“The answers are probably as varied as there are people in farming,” says Shane Hand, director of marketing for Bayer Crop Science’s digital farming initiatives at Research Triangle, N.C. “The cool thing is, we can help shape the future of this industry. I believe we work in the sexiest industry on the face of the planet — we can help feed and clothe a growing global population.

Hand, who spoke at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Economics Association at Mississippi State University, has served in a number of domestic and global roles during his 15 years with Bayer, in locations from Fresno, Calif., to Dusseldorf, Germany.

Referring to the projected growth of world population to 9 billion by 2030, he says “the challenge for us — and the opportunity — is with the 5 billion who will be increasing their expendable income, moving into the middle class, into better housing, improving their diets.

FEWER CROP ACRES

“The demand is going to increase exponentially, but the number of acres to produce all those crops and livestock isn’t increasing. Globally, only 3 percent of the land mass is used for agricultural production. That’s a scary number. We’ve got to learn how to move our industry forward so we can meet those challenges of these numbers.”

Among the challenges on the road to 2030, he says, is “How to we innovate? What will the farm of the future look like? More autonomous [robotic] equipment? More vertical farming? More large scale, broad acres-type crops? Honestly, we don’t know.

“But the beauty of not knowing exactly what the future of farming is going to look like is that we can help shape that future. Ag 2030 is more about defining that vision: How can we as service-providing suppliers help shape and deliver solutions to make farmers more profitable, more performance-driven, more efficient in their farming operations?”

SIX KEY AREAS

In the forefront of moving agriculture forward, Hand says, are six key areas of Ag 2030: water, robotics, large farms, precision farming, soils, and consumer performance.

• Water: “In the next 15 years, if the present trend of water consumption continues, there’s going to be a 40 percent gap between demand and supply for water resources. That’s a really big number!

• Robotics: “Many of the innovations of the past several years have been centered on mechanization and precision planting. But in the years ahead, autonomous equipment is one of the innovative areas that can help move our industry forward.”

• Large farms: “There’s often a lot of conversation about consolidation within our industry, but there’s not a lot of discussion about massive amount of consolidation that occurs every year at the farm level. That’s something we as an industry are going to have to deal with. With more farms of 10,000 to 30,000 to 50,000 acres or more, that will require solutions for managing the complexity of these operations to make their production as efficient as possible.”

• Precision farming: “This is more about data-enabled decision-making at the farm level. There is a lot of data being generated —but unless you can do something useful with it, data is just a bunch of numbers.”

• Soil health: “There’s not a lot of discussion about the enhance soil health to improve productivity, although it’s one of the areas we envision as being able to help with productivity and efficiency.”

• Consumer preferences: ‘We’ve done a very poor job of conveying to consumers of the world a sense of how we help in agriculture them. This is an area in which we can really move forward.  We do a lot of market research to try and understand what drives consumer purchasing and performance decisions — to bridge the gap between farmers, consumers, and industry.”

MASSIVE CHANGES

 “I often get asked what our industry is doing, what Bayer is doing to meet the sustainability challenges of tomorrow’s agriculture,” he says. “How can our industry help to bridge the gap between what growers do, what industry does, and what consumers understand and value in their everyday lives?

“Looking back at farming over the last 15 to 20 years, there has been a massive amount of change that has taken place for the positive good of our industry, our farmers, our academic institutions. Look what has been accomplished in biotechnology and precision agriculture  technology since they were introduced in the mid-1990s.”

And the sustainability of agriculture will be a key challenge, he says. “Sustainability doesn’t have to be that difficult. But there are a lot of moving parts that will help determine and define the things that are shaping the landscape of the future of farming — expenditures as well as investments.”

Agriculture, Hand says, has “enjoyed a luxurious position in the past,” in which agribusiness provided growers a broad choice of “products in bags and jugs.” But in the future, there will be a need for “a more holistic, integrated, comprehensive solution. It’s not going to be just about bags of seed or jugs of chemicals, but about all the things coming online that will be more inclusive.”

ACHIEVING SOLUTIONS

With increasing concern about herbicide resistance, Hand asked: “Anybody remember when the last mode of action herbicide chemistry was discovered? It was 1979. These things don’t come along everyday. We’re going to have to figure ways to rejuvenate, to reinvigorate the tools and solutions we can provide to growers for their everyday farming practices.”

And those changes in farming practices, he says, “really come down to precision farming technologies. I have the responsibility within Bayer to develop our North American strategy for this.”

Consideration must be given to changes in farming structure, cropping patterns, contract farming, risk management, consolidation of the land, “the economics of it all,” Hand says. “When we talk about sustainability, changes in the landscape, we’ve got to do a better job of getting the word out, and to be more comprehensive in our ability to provide solutions.”

(This is the first of two articles.)

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