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Top Of Mind: A Toast to Modern Farmers

02:57AM Sep 04, 2014
Jeanne Bernick
I’d like to a raise a toast to the modern farmer. Too often, you get lambasted, kicked and shunned instead of praised for moving agriculture forward. So on the eve of our 2014 harvest season, here’s to you and all you do. 

You’ve increased productivity. For the top five U.S. crops of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice, productivity gains in the past 30 years are staggering. Yields are higher, up 50% for corn alone. Meanwhile, the average input savings per acre for precision ag users is $19 for corn, $18.50 for soybeans and $39 for cotton, the Precision Ag Institute notes. 

Kudos also goes to the scientists behind genetic improvements such as insecticidal genes from Bacillus thuringiensis, which alone have reduced insecticide usage by millions of pounds. 

You’ve made environmental gains. Modern farmers use less energy and water, fewer pesticides and less fertilizer per unit of crop production than in the past three decades. Aggregate fertilizer usage leveled off in recent years as productivity rose. Pesticide usage fell as biotechnology in crops reduced the need for repeat applications. Soil erosion is roughly half what it was in 1980. 

You’ve improved management. In the past, agricultural success primarily depended on low production costs. Not so today. "As agriculture is transformed from a commodity to a differentiated product business, competition becomes multi-dimensional – it is not just being cost competitive that will lead to financial success; it requires being a better manager," notes Purdue University’s Mike Boehlje. In response, top producers have increased responsiveness and time-to-market while cutting costs.  

You’ve created partnerships. Traditional agriculture involved producers purchasing inputs and selling products to another business. Now, winning partnerships form between like-minded producers, growers and suppliers as well as government agencies, environmentalists and even corporate America. 

Read our cover story on page 14 to learn about one such partnership involving a farmer, a beer company and The Nature Conservancy. 

Agriculture has evolved, and it continues to improve lives around the world. So here’s to you, top producers, who move us all forward. 

I wish you a safe and profitable harvest.