Wayne A. Steinour | Posted on Sep 22, 2018
When most people hear the term Agribusiness, they tend to think only of agricultural production. Though Agribusiness includes this type of farming activity, it also encompasses the whole gamut of crop and livestock raising as well as the ancillary businesses associated with it---farm equipment sales, fertilizer application, and grain sales.
In my more than 25 years of working as a banker specializing in Agribusiness lending, I have seen tremendous changes in the use of technology to benefit our local farmers. Today, Precision Agriculture is the new buzz phrase. Precision Agriculture is the collection of geo-spatial data to help coordinate the planting, fertilization and harvesting of crops. In the past, farmers did their best to treat their fields uniformly. Now, they have the ability to micromanage a field to better utilize fertilizers and other soil nutrients and requirements.
With GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS (Geographical Information System), farmers are now able to gain valuable information about land and water usage. This technology is not just available for the large mega-farms. Many of the small family farms in our region are accessing and using these capabilities as well.
Recently, a farmer shared with me that GPS enables him to plant more efficiently by mapping the boundary of each field and allowing him to pinpoint problem areas. Essentially, the historical data builds year after year once the areas have been mapped in the GPS. As this farmer said, "The technology today is pretty slick."
To drive home his point, he fired up his iPad and accessed up to three years of planting and harvesting data that provided information about weather, soil samples, and yields. With this technology at his fingertips, he saves 6-8% in seed expenses each year by using GPS and satellite imaging.
According to GPS.gov, some of the benefits of this new technology include minimizing redundant applications and maximizing ground coverage in the shortest amount of time, allowing for precision soil sampling and data collection to pinpoint specific areas of a field needing chemical applications and providing the ability to work through low visibility conditions due to fog, rain or haze.
Although Precision Agriculture has tremendous potential and makes a significant impact on food production, security and safety, the level of engagement is still relatively low. The primary reasons include the challenges in welcoming change, having the expertise to set up the initial implementation, and comprehending the immense amount of data available through these methods.
Therefore, we continue to enter a brave new world in Agribusiness. The one thing that has not changed in my 25 years in Agribusiness lending is my huge respect for the farmer. Today's farmer must be an accountant, financial advisor, mechanic, crop specialist, commodities dealer, human resources manager, veterinarian, construction worker, and information technology specialist. The work for these men and women is never ending, and the stress can be relentless. However, these hardworking individuals look forward to the promise of each spring and embrace a deep well of faith that continues to inspire. When you sit down to eat tonight, please remember to give thanks for a farmer.
Wayne A. Steinour is Senior Vice President/Agribusiness Lending Manager at ACNB Bank.