Tips for Success in 21st-Century Agriculture
Nov 13, 2017
Sweeping demographic changes and the rise of technology have dramatically altered the agricultural landscape. Farmers who are equipped to quickly satisfy changing consumer preferences and proactively anticipate challenges are likelier to thrive.
“Demographics and technology are reshaping the consumer landscape and the amount of information people have at their fingertips,” says Jason Henderson, Ph.D., associate dean, Purdue University College of Agriculture and director of Purdue Extension. “This translates into how much information consumers want regarding the food, fuel and fiber that come from agriculture.”
Here are some recommendations Henderson has for growth-oriented farmers who want to remain on the leading edge of ag production.
Meet 21st-century demands.
The largest demographic groups in the United States — millennials — have needs that are different from those of previous generations, says Henderson. A number of millennials, for example, are interested in understanding where their food comes from. They may also be more drawn to ideas such as urban agriculture and the local food movement. “These food demands are potentially reshaping agriculture and the rural economy,” he says.
Farmers must also be adept at identifying new sources of market demand. Farm booms tend to occur when there has been a new source of demand — for example, a boom in Chinese exports of methanol spurred the last boom in the mid 2000’s.
“Agribusinesses need to be more in touch with consumers and understand how demand is shifting, both here in the United States and globally, to identify and to even drive some of the future booms going forward,” says Henderson. “In the past, agriculture focused on the supply side — driving operational efficiencies and being the low-cost producer. Now, farmers recognize that ag is a consumer-oriented industry and that they need to produce crops, livestock and other products that meet specific consumer demands.” \
Acquire the tools you need.
Not only do farmers need to have agronomic and/or animal husbandry acumen to run their operations, they need marketing skills to sell their goods at the best price and to manage risk.
“Increasingly, farmers need STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills,” says Henderson. “It could be the ability to work with robotic milkers, fly drones, or synthesize big data and use it to make decisions. These are skills that are essential for farmers and producers, but also industrywide and throughout the entire value chain.”
Address the requirements of your workforce.
Farms are on track to increase in size and will need younger people to fill staffing demands. Some of these workers will have an agricultural background, while others may not have grown up on a farm. How should you think about workforce management? New technology? Worker training opportunities?
“We need to think about the farm workforce of the future more broadly,” says Henderson. “Not only how we hire employees and decide what skills they must possess; but to also consider how the spouses of those farm employees can be integrated into the workforce and into the rural community.”
Purdue University and Purdue Extension help farmers discover how they can meet emerging consumer demands while driving efficiencies in their operations and ultimately turn a profit.
“We encourage farmers to identify new market opportunities or develop new products,” says Henderson. “Once they identify those new demand sources, they can then work to meet those demands efficiently and in a way that drives environmental, economic and social benefits.”
He offers the example of orange corn. This corn is packed with carotenoids, which are only available through diet. Ultimately, they are converted into vitamin A, which is vital for eye health. Children with severe vitamin A deficiency can go blind. As a result, orange corn could be a great benefit to a number of populations around the globe. “It’s going to take farmers who are entrepreneurial and willing to do things a little differently on their farms to grow this type of value-added product,” says Henderson.
“As farmers become more entrepreneurial, they need to focus on shifts in broader consumer demands and understand the consumer side of emerging trends. It’s the entrepreneurial enterprises that will be the first to capture those benefits.”
To learn more about our Insights Conference speakers, click here.