Last week I spoke to the New York Farm Bureau (“NYFB”) Young Farmers and Ranchers (“YF&R”) about finding the right balance between tradition and technology. I thought that I would share a few thoughts from my presentation here.
1. The Use of Technology in Agriculture Is Traditional. Farmers and ranchers have always used technological advancements to increase efficiency, quality, safety, and profitability. The crop industry has experienced six major revolutions with the introduction of (a) mechanical equipment such as tractors and cotton-pickers, (b) hybrid seed, (c) fertilizers, (d) herbicides, insecticides, & fungicides, (e) biotechnology, and (f) information technology. Farmland erosion has reduced by 43% in the last 20 years. In 1940, 1 farmer produced enough food for 19 people. In 2010, 1 farmer produced enough food by 155 people. A higher proportion of farmers use smartphones when compared to the general public (46% vs. 25%).
2. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – Bob Dylan. This isn’t your grandfather’s industry anymore. Generation Y currently out-numbers baby-boomers. Adoption rates for internet-based applications such as social media are much faster than traditional technological adoption rates. It is estimated that mobile data traffic will increase 39 fold by 2014. Businesses are changing the way they market themselves and cater to this growing demographic. Furthermore, agriculture is being faced with younger leadership. Between 2007 and 2030, 80 million U.S. employees will retire. A 2008 Iowa State University survey of Midwestern farm families revealed that 42% of farmers planned to retire within the next 5 years. There will consequently be a shift in leadership on our farms, ranches and agribusinesses. Due to this, have my readers had *that* conversation with your family? Poor succession planning is a huge threat to family farms.
3. The Use of Technology Does Not Mean We Are Big Bad Corporate Agriculture. Even though 98% of the farms in the United States are family owed, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a negative stereotype about modern agriculture practices from U.S. consumers and the international community. We need technology to feed a growing world population. It is paramount that the agriculture community get involved and help educate the public about the use of technology in agriculture either via social media or face-to-face agvocacy. Prepare that elevator speech and be prepared to talk to consumers about what you do – wherever you are. It’s amazing the questions that I get when I wear my cowboy boots to the airport. If you get discouraged about the negative press that the agriculture community is receiving regarding its use of technology, please remember that it isn’t “us vs. them.” We are all Team Agriculture. It isn’t Big Ag vs. Small Ag. It isn’t Organic vs. Non-Organic. It isn’t the Cattle Industry vs. the Corn Industry. And it isn’t Agriculture vs. Consumers. Consumers are our customers and we need to respectfully listen to their voice.
4. There is No Need to Keep Up With the Joneses. Don’t use technology for the sake of using technology. Use your business cap and make sure that the technology that you choose is cost-effective. Judicially decide what types of technology to use based upon your specific operation, budget, brand and client base.
5. Technology Cannot Replace Common Sense. As my grandpa says, “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky at morn’, sailors be warned” or “ring around the moon, rain come soon.” Technology cannot replace knowledge and experience. Don’t forget to use all five of your senses and don’t be afraid to open up the Farmer’s Almanac from time-to-time.
6. With the Use of Technology, Don’t Forget the Old-Fashioned Values That Make This Industry Great. You know the values that I’m referring to. The unbelievable sense of community. Family Values. Hard-work. And helping that neighbor in a time of need. Those are the things that make this industry worth fightin’ for. So no matter what technological advancements come in our future, hold true to those values that make this industry great.
7. Don’t Forget Real Life Relationships. I love Facebook and Twitter as much as everybody but it cannot replace real-life relationships. Don’t let social media get in the way of family-time. Don’t forget face-to-face networking. It is great to be an agvocate online, but you can also do a lot of good for agriculture by talking to people in your community. Technology is great but let’s not all be glued to our smartphones too much that we forget the wonderful relationships that we have IRL (“in real life”).