It’s that time of the year again. As the year winds to a close, farmers of all ages and geographies look back on the year that was – and what 2016 and beyond will bring. In agriculture, everything changes so fast that merely keeping up is no small feat.
For me, the year that was 2015 changed everything. It was the year my son was born.
This past year truly will go down as one of our farm’s great successes of the decade. An above average crop coupled with excellent prices has delivered us one of the best years we have seen in some time. Unprecedented lentil prices continue to amaze farmers and grain traders alike, with difficult conditions in India and a burgeoning global market for pulses creating incredible demand for what we grow. 2016 will be another big year for lentils on the prairies – and, coincidentally, is the International Year of Pulses.
But what about beyond that? Recently, I attended the GrowCanada conference in Calgary (thanks again to CropLife Canada for that!), where I saw a group of fantastic speakers talking about the future. One that stood out for me was Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire: Canadian Forces veteran, senator, author and humanitarian. He spoke about many fascinating things, but one thread that sticks with me was his goal-oriented mindset. While everyone else talks about their 5-year plan, he is the one thinking about the 6th year and beyond.
As farmers and business people, it’s in our DNA to plan for the future. Every year is a gamble. But too rarely do we step back and look at the big picture. We face a world of change in agriculture. A revolution in how we do our every day business is already underway.
For instance, 2016 will be my first year owning a drone. What do I plan to do with it? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure yet. Like our new weather station, it is probably a data-collection device without a way to process the data. But that day will come. Right now, we are collecting massive amounts of data from every crop year. It truly is amazing how much information we pull from our fields. Drones will allow us to collect even more. We will learn details about our fields that we have never really seen before.
As the popularity of drones rises, their potential uses grow. Today, you can buy a drone that sprays your crop for you. Of course, to replace our high-clearance sprayer would require dozens and dozens of them, if not hundreds, but you get the idea where our industry is going. Our days driving machinery out in the field are probably numbered. As futurist Jim Carrol said at the conference, “You will probably overestimate the change in the next two years, and underestimate the change in the next ten.”
Data is driving changes in more than just field operations. Data-managing platforms, such as Agri-Data and Farm At Hand, are some of farmers’ most-used tools today. Everything we do we can track and measure. No more missed spray applications, no more lost bins, and near-perfect cost of production numbers – if the program is properly utilized, of course.
As we drive into the future, I wonder what it will look like for my son, Asher. I believe he will see more change in his life than even my grandparents saw in theirs – and that’s saying a lot. Will he be a farmer? Who knows? His life is his own, and he will make that choice many years from now.
If he does choose to farm, what will it be like? Will he ever run equipment out in the field? By then, it may all be autonomous. He may use something like Google Glass to look at his crop and instantly know what nutrient deficiencies it may be experiencing, what stresses it faces, or whether spraying a fungicide is necessary. Someday, he might even edit his crop’s DNA to adapt it to certain fields. His entire method of managing his crops may be completely foreign to me.
However, that won’t make it wrong. If my grandfather could see how we farm today, while he might find it confusing, he would discover that the underlying principles are much the same. Just like him, I’m trying to grow healthy food for a hungry world, hopefully improving the quality of the land it’s grown on at the same time. And I’m sure I will see the same principles in place when and if my son decides to farm.
I don’t know how many people told me that having children changes everything. In fact, I kinda got tired of hearing it! But the day we brought Asher home, I realized that line is such an understatement. My whole world changed that day. But there is something so amazing about bringing a child into this world, and the light and innocence he radiates. Something about looking at him makes me realize that the future of this planet, and our own sometimes troubled human race, is so very bright. Our most basic need is food, and I am proud to grow it. The coming decades will be amazing.