Opportunities to learn at 2014 Commodity Classic
Thousands of attendees had the opportunity to learn about what’s coming next in agriculture during Commodity Classic, the largest farmer-led convention, held Feb. 26 to March 1 in San Antonio. Farmers heard policy updates, profit-driving tips from fellow farmers and game-changing technology that is on the way to a field near you.
Here are four takeaways worth noting from the 2014 Commodity Classic.
Farmers share ideas. Farmer attendees packed in to the "Ideas to Break Through Yield Barriers" learning session to hear four of their peers share their tips and tricks to increase yields and profits. The common theme threaded through the session was "embrace change."
For example, panelist Adam Watson, who farms white corn, yellow corn, seed corn and soybeans near Villa Grove, Ill., uses on-farm research to drive changes in his operation. He tests everything from new production practices to new precision equipment and even test-flies drones on his farm before going across all acres.
While it might look like a bar of soap, this device helps calibrate combine data for apples-to-apples "micro field" comparisons, says Scott Robinson, president of FarmLink.
"I’m a big proof-is-in-the-pudding guy," he says. "I have to see it to believe it and truly get a grasp on it. It’s the best way for me personally to learn. We make bad decisions, too, but I learn as much from the times I’ve failed as I do from the times I’ve succeeded."
Fellow panelist Josh Koehn, who farms corn, wheat and milo near Montezuma, Kan., says one of the most productive changes he’s made on his operation is increasing willpower during planting season to wait for optimal timing based on weather and soil conditions. Even as he sees other planters rolling, he waits until the timing is right for his fields.
"Planting shouldn’t be a race, but it can turn into one," he says. "You don’t have to be the first in the field. In fact, I’m one of the last guys out—I want warm soils and good emergence. Work within your own circumstances and plant when it’s right. You don’t want to be the first; you want to be the best."
Elsewhere around the event, farmers could get valuable information on the next wave of high-tech farming tools, from high-speed planters, one-stop farm-management software setups to a variety of unmanned aerial vehicle options. Attendees could even get a demonstration of Google Glass and see its potential as a next-generation crop-scouting tool.
Company representatives such as Scott Robinson, president of FarmLink, met with farmers to showcase new technology. FarmLink recently unveiled its "micro field" TrueHarvest benchmarking concept. Each micro field spans about 150 sq. ft. (roughly the ground that is covered during 1 second of harvest). The company has charted 500 million such fields and can match similar micro fields with their customers for benchmarking and yield-improvement purposes.
Propane price preparation. Clearly, propane users suffered a nasty price hike this winter, with average prices in late January topping $4 per gallon or higher around much of the Midwest. Since then, the initial sticker shock has worn away to concerns about whether this shift in prices was due to short-term factors or signals a longer term shift toward higher prices.
The situation has been blamed on multiple causes, including logistics/transportation issues, pipeline tie-ups, colder-than-normal winter weather—even an uptake in propane use last fall to dry corn, says Mark Leitman, director of business and marketing for the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC). The organization was at Commodity Classic to help farmers learn more about incentive programs and share methods of better planning ahead for potential future price increases.
"Communication is key so you will have a sense of the potential demand for fuel," he says. "Communicate early and often with your propane provider. Lock in prices just like you would any other essential input on the farm."
Because propane prices tend to follow oil prices, the U.S. Energy Information Administration and AmeriGas have both indicated the most likely scenario for price trends from 2010 to 2020 will be average annual price gains of about 5%, with another 1% annual price gain projected through 2035.
- Early Spring 2014