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Farming Ain’t For Sissies, & Sustainable Farming Is Especially Tough

Technology is poised to increase profitability and sustainability for farmers — if they can afford it.

We hear a lot about how the carbon emissions associated with farming contribute to climate change. We also hear that many farming activities harm the land and lead to degradation of water resources. Farmers dump too many chemicals on their fields and pump antibiotics into their animals. Some or all of those things are true, but none of them change the fact that farming is a tough business, one that can lead to financial ruin no matter how much time and effort farmers devote to their crops or livestock.

A hundred years ago, 60% of all Americans were engaged in farming. Your grandmother may have known how to go outside, kill a chicken, pluck it, and cook it for dinner. Today, less than 2% of Americans consider themselves to be farmers. (Growing basil on the porch does not count!)

In many respects, farmers are a lot like utility company executives — given to long term thinking, highly risk averse, and slow to accept new technology. But business is business, as the saying goes. Once utility companies saw that renewable energy could fatten their profits, their suspicions began to fall away and they started to embrace wind and solar and other renewables.

If the farming community is going to embrace sustainability — ideas like renting out farmland for solar and wind farms, plowing less, adaptive grazing, and planting cover crops — they need to see that doing so will put money in their pockets. Wall Street investment bankers don’t stir unless doing so will make them money. Why should farmers be any different?

If we want farmers to change their behavior, we need to show them the money. As Sarah Mock, a writer who grew up on a farm in Wyoming, says in a recent article for Medium, “Farmers aren’t foolish.” They can’t afford to buy seeds to plant “cover crops” if they don’t have money in the bank to pay for it. “The price of truly responsible food is high — really high — and not comparable to what you pay in the supermarket. Farmers must be able to afford their environmental stewardship. Someone, or something, has to pay for it.”

Mock believes that what she calls AgTech is the tool that will convince farmers to embrace sustainable farming because it will put more money in their pockets. Just like the fusty old utility companies, once farmers see what is possible with technology — and experience how profitable it can be — all their objections will fall by the wayside. “AgTech is all of the new methods, skills, and tools driven by science that help producers farm better,” she writes. “It’s everything from the most advanced A.I. to practices like planting cover crops.”

“Technology, it seems, holds the potential to make sustainability not only profitable but more profitable than conventional farming methods. Ideally, this will create a bridge between financial and environmental sustainability. Whether it’s using sensors, software, and aerial imagery to better understand crops or using advanced biology to find and prove non-antibiotic growth hormones, no subject attracts the smartest, most pragmatic, and most future-oriented farmers quite like a new piece of farming technology.”

Risk Free Program From Growers Edge Financial

Joe Young, president and chief operating officer of Growers Edge Financial, says, “In today’s stressed farm economy, farmers are incredibly wary of taking on more financial risk – even when taking that leap could boost profitability. They need guarantees. Working with strategic partners like Growmark, we are providing the financial incentives farmers need to confidently adopt the new technologies that can ultimately drive their long-term sustainability and business success.”

Growmark is one of the largest suppliers to the North American farming community, providing a broad range of fuels, lubricants, crop nutrients, crop protection products, seed, construction services, equipment, and grain marketing assistance. The two companies announced a strategic partnership on October 3 to help farmers become more efficient and profitable by expanding data-driven solutions for farmers that come with a yield guarantee to improve yield and profitability without the financial risk.

According to an e-mail to CleanTechnica from Growers Edge Financial, when farmers follow the agronomic practices prescribed by Growmark, they are assured yield improvements backed by a performance guarantee provided by Growers Edge.

“Growmark is committed to helping our customers grow their bottom line with new ag technologies, which makes Growers Edge an ideal partner for us,” says Lance Ruppert, director of agronomy marketing technology for Growmark. “The Growers Edge team is removing some of the risk and creating a new value stream for both the farmer and our technology providers. We think the yield guarantee program will help customers deploy the technologies needed to improve profitability, and we are eager to see it in action.”

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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