WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — John Deere’s chief economist believes
the world is entering a new age in agriculture — one unlike anything the
industry has seen before.
An era of precision farming is at hand, and many
technologies will be used to make managing farms a more exact science.
J.B. Penn spoke at Purdue University’s annual James C.
Snyder Memorial Lecture. The event is put on by the Agricultural Economics
Department in memory of Snyder, a distinguished professor.
Deere & Co. CEO Samuel Allen and vice president Charles
Stamp were among the guests, along with students, professors and alumni.
“It’s increasingly clear that another technological era has
begun,” Penn said. “It’s an era that lacks a widely agreed upon name, but will
involve the use of complementary technologies.”
These technologies will include computers, satellites,
software, monitors, sensors, probes and other communication devices.
As a result of high-precision farming, farmers will be able
to improve resource use, increase efficiency and cut unit costs — all while
reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.
Penn expects this new period to feature enhanced reporting
and compliance capabilities, better machine usage and improved risk management.
“Today we are beyond the laboratory stage for entirely
autonomous machines,” he said. “The benefits of all of this data only now are
beginning to be fully realized, but promise to hold enormous potential for
greatly enhanced managerial ability, on and off the farm.”
While the future of agriculture looks bright, there are many
challenges to face, Penn said.
Availability of adequate rural broadband and data ownership,
use, storage and location are a few of the issues that need to be addressed.
“Almost certainly, more (issues) will emerge,” Penn said.
“It could even hasten change in the already evolving traditional owner/operator
“The data-driven possibilities could mean new management
models appear. These changes are not often rapid, but they do respond to better
tools and technologies and will likely lead to the end of the dominance of
owner/operator traditional model.”
Economic issues, including the U.S. role in world
agricultural development, also will need to be addressed.
Over the past 12 years, the structure of the global grain
market has changed, and it continues to change, Penn said. The two main reasons
for this shift are the unit cost of production and the cost of marketing between
the farm gate and consumer.
“Today farmers in Brazil, Argentina and the Black Sea region
are eagerly adopting advanced technologies on the farm,” Penn said. “At the same
time, investments in essential infrastructure … also are growing.
“Together, the result is increased competitiveness and a
shift in source of supplies for growing local markets. The recent extraordinary
high-price period promoted other grain producers to expand and vie for export
As the world enters what Penn expects to be a period of more
moderate prices, expansion in foreign countries may or may not continue growing
at such a fast rate.
In order to feed more people, productivity must be increased
everywhere that farming is practiced — not just in top-exporting countries, he
Penn shared a video of what the future of farming may look
like. In it, irrigation systems could be managed at the tip of a finger, on a
digital interface. A smartphone photo of a corn plant could digitally diagnose
the health of that particular stalk.
This video is available to watch at www.youtube.com/watch?vjEh5-zZ9jUg.