This blog was originally presented as a talk at the National Farmers’ Union of Cymru’s annual conference. You can watch Campbell Mauchan’s presentation here.
Change is the only constant
The world seems to change so quickly, it could leave you with whiplash. Ranchers today are facing challenges like never before, whether it’s political uncertainty, increasing demands for transparency from consumers, or shifting requirements from government regulators. Then there’s the current COVID crisis, which has turned everyone’s life upside down.
In these unusual times, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand. It’s a technique some of the most famous companies have tried, which is why kids haven’t heard of Kodak: the company invented digital cameras but couldn’t conceive of a world without film… when digital technology advanced, they were left behind.
Now technology is changing the world of agriculture. One option is to ignore it, and say, “The way we’ve always done things works.” At best, it means you miss out on innovations that could make your life easier. At worst, it means you could struggle to keep your ranch operating as a viable business.
There’s no reason to be fearful of innovation. The core of ranching will always be about looking after your land and livestock. Technology offers you a way to do that even more effectively, while helping to secure the long-term success of your ranch.
Innovation is central to agriculture: a brief history
The history of agriculture is one of innovation, starting from the first hunter-gatherer who thought, 10,000 years ago, “Maybe we should put a fence around our goats instead of chasing them.”
The British Agricultural Revolution wasn’t one great leap forward. It was a series of innovations, from crop rotation and selective breeding to developments in farm machinery, that spanned from the mid-18th until the late-19th century.
The 1960s saw the arrival of the Green Revolution, with an explosion in grain production, thanks to high-yielding varieties, used with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The American agronomist who led developments in plant breeding, Norman Borlaug, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The prize committee said, “More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world.”
We’re in the midst of what’s been called the fourth agricultural revolution, or Agriculture 4.0, and ranchers have the opportunity to embrace technology the way many industries already have. That will be necessary, to feed a population expected to hit close to 10 billion by 2050.
What technology do you need?
No two ranches are the same, and the tech solutions they need aren’t either. Looking at the industry as a whole, one thing’s clear: there’s a lot of room for growth. Just consider: most ranchers are using a pen and paper to keep records, while – in the form of a smartphone – they have a supercomputer in their pocket.
You might use precision agriculture tools, which ensure you optimize fertilizer and pesticide use. You could investigate remote monitoring systems, to reduce labor costs and give peace of mind when you’re away from the ranch.
In the crop management space, there is software that allows agronomists to keep farmers informed in real time while helping farmers manage and monitor every process from planting through to harvesting. Financial management software can provide you and your advisors with real-time production tracking, budgeting and reporting information.
At AgriWebb, we’ve focused on ranch record keeping, making it simple to track everything from treatments through to grazing patterns, using a map-based overview of the ranch. By collecting all your information in one place, stored on the cloud, you can derive powerful insights from your ranch data, leading to more informed – and more profitable – decisions.
In recent years, billions of dollars have been invested in the agtech sector. Whatever problems you’re experiencing on your ranch, someone out there is working on a tech solution – or already has one. Do your research online and talk to fellow farmers about how technology has made their lives easier. The sooner you grow informed, the sooner you reap the benefits.