Never before has agriculture been so complex. Farmers must
balance myriad factors in their quest for a decent bottom line.
They include seeding rates, fertilizer mixes, pesticide
application, spray nozzle calibration, GPS coordinates, diesel mechanics,
resistant weeds, buffer strips, no-till drills, meteorological information and
marketing strategies, just to mention a few.
Of course, the rewards are there, as well. Today’s farmers
save more time, achieve better yields and make more money than they have at any
time in history.
But the technology associated with modern farming demands
constant attention by its practitioners. A good analogy may be physicians who
must regularly keep up with the latest in medical advances. They can’t continue
to practice today using only what they learned years ago in medical
Fortunately, there is no shortage of help for farmers
struggling to keep up with the latest information. I have been made aware of the
learning opportunities this year.
It seems as if I have attended twice as many field days,
conferences, tours and seed company meetings than I had in past years. I’m not
complaining. I have learned a great deal at these meetings and, hopefully, have
passed along a few ideas that work on the farm.
Many in the industry decry the shrinking footprint of
university research and outreach. Indeed, in these economic times — especially
in Illinois — Extension programs have been contracted somewhat.
The entire system has been restructured and refocused.
Inevitably, the breadth and reach of ag research and resources of land-grant
universities have been curbed a bit.
But there still is valuable work being done by the
institutions. And an unintended consequence of the contraction seems to be a
more focused approach, which certainly is not a negative.
Some are concerned about the growing reliance by farmers of
corporate sources providing education. But I believe that concern — if not
unfounded — is not always warranted.
After all, seed companies and other agribusinesses want the
same thing farmers want: a profit. There is necessarily a symbiotic relationship
between company and customer.
In addition, competition between them allows farmers to
gather information from all sides and apply it to their own operation. And, as
always, Extension professionals provide a neutral check.
In the end, farmers, educators and companies will continue
to work together so that the American farmer will continue to be the envy of the
world. We are, after all, in this together.