“The cure to most of our problems in agriculture could be sitting right in front of us,” says Jay Middleton. It’s a heavy thought, and one of the many reasons the agronomy senior at Murray State University (MSU) believes it’s important to point people toward an ag education.
Apparently, plenty of young people have followed that direction. MSU’s Hutson School of Agriculture, like so many North American ag schools, appears ready to burst at the seams. In a reversal from just a decade ago, agriculture is “in” and its future bright. Enrollment in colleges of agriculture in both the U.S. and Canada has experienced healthy upswings. Individual institutions, including MSU, are reporting record numbers.
Most of it boils down to “jobs, jobs, jobs,” says MSU Hutson School of Agriculture dean Dr. Tony Brannon. “There are lots of expanded job opportunities in fields relatively new to agriculture, such as biotechnology, veterinary technology and precision agriculture.” Coupled with a retiring workforce and an expanding market that includes positions for non-rural youth, Brannon believes this created “the perfect storm leading to increased enrollment in many sectors of agriculture.”
Because they offer a glimpse at agriculture’s future, we sat down with Middleton and a group of his ag school classmates to better understand what motivates, concerns and appeals to them about their chosen academic discipline and the profession for which they’re preparing.
Technology, a yearning to learn more, leadership, a desire to feed the world and much more is discussed in this FarmLife special report. What these young people have to say tells us the future is in good hands and that cure Middleton mentions could be just around the corner.
There is much more from current ag students as part of the special report from FarmLife, the Massey Ferguson customer magazine. Read more from them here, and browse the full package including video and infographics.
“The economics of the whole modern situation don’t really allow you to support yourself, strictly from a family farm,” says Gary Ellis, who raises about 50 head of cattle and some 500 bales of hay on about 200 acres of Tennessee farmland, pasture and wooded mountainside. But in an ironic turn that’s become the norm these days, it’s his “day job” as an electrical engineer that supports his work on the farm.
“We have gotten to where it’s really hard to support your family and maintain the farm … in terms of how much you can produce,” says Ellis. “So I’ve had to work full-time in order to maintain everything, including a standard of living.”
Ellis says he could sell the land “and make a little money off it,” or rent it out to custom farmers, but enjoys the work and is passionate about keeping a working farm in the family. “The No. 1 thing I want to do is to maintain the land the way it is and pass it on to my children.”
Then he pauses and says, “It’s getting to be kind of an odd thing to farm your own land, when it comes to these small to midsize farms. It’s getting to be a rarity.”
The latest census data from the U.S. and Canada backs up that assertion. In Canada, the number of farms earning less than $100,000 in gross receipts fell by about 12% from 2006 to 2011—that after a drop of 38% in the previous two decades. In the U.S., the actual number of farms in the 50- to 999-acre range fell by almost 56,000 from 2007 to 2012, a 4.7% decline.
For many smaller and middling operations, selling directly to consumers or joining co-ops has helped. Ellis has yet to work with a co-op or sell direct to consumers. Instead, he sells to a nearby stockyard. He says there’s currently not an applicable co-op in his area, but direct sales is something “I could move into, but I’m currently too busy for the added attention it requires.”
In something of a catch-22, he doesn’t have the time because of his off-farm job, which allows him to keep the farm. The long days are, however, worth the effort for Ellis, but for him it’s more than a hobby. It’s a business that provides a product, and small and midsize farms such as his offer additional capacity to feed the world.
“Parcels like these will never be incorporated into the big tracts,” Ellis continues. “So, unless the small guy farms them, the opportunity is lost and the land will go into forest or residential development. That is where the little guy … can really pick up the slack.”
Ask Gavin MacDonald why he and his father, Donnie, purchased their Massey Ferguson® 6490 and he counts the reasons, literally.
Specifically, the number of times he would have to shift gears while driving to the field farthest from the barn in a comparably priced “green” tractor.
“Twenty-one shifts there and 21 back,” he says. “We figured that was a lot of shifting to do with a lot of clutch work when you’re spreading manure or something like that.” Because the MacDonalds’ MF6490 has a Dyna-6 transmission, “you set it and it shifts on itself,” Gavin continues.
“You basically drive it like an automatic [transmission] car,” adds Donnie. “It’ll go through its ranges … and gear down when it can. That’s great on fuel economy.”
The first Massey Ferguson tractor Donnie bought was almost 27 years ago and from Brock Proudfoot at Proudfoot Motors in nearby New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. “Since then,” says Donnie, who now owns five Massey Ferguson tractors and one combine, “we’ve been pretty well with him for everything that he can supply. We get great service … right through to the parts and service, and all the guys at the shop. We don’t have a lot of breakdowns, but we get good service when we do have them.”
Donnie and Gavin do, however, comparison shop. “You just don’t buy something because the color,” says Donnie. “Massey’s always been competitive.
“They’re also very durable,” he continues. “Like I say, some of the tractors have been here for quite a while.”
In this new era where mass amounts of data are being compiled on the farm and off, growers want to know they have control. But, that’s not a given.
“It’s still a bit of the wild, wild west right now,” says Joe Russo, who helped pioneer what would become precision farming 28 years ago as an agricultural meteorologist at Penn State University. “The sharing of information can be good or bad, but those responsible for generating the data—the farmers—their permission should be required for any use.
“Your data is your most important source of information,” says Russo. “It defines you, and represents your economic position and intellectual property. There is no doubt in my mind who owns it.”
Ownership notwithstanding, who can use that data is often subject to less-than-transparent practices. Consider that many companies, including some agricultural equipment manufacturers, bury an “opt out” clause in the fine print of documents concerning a purchase or service agreement. In such cases, the onus is on the customers, who must search for and find such a clause, then purposefully decline in order to maintain their privacy. If not, the company providing the equipment or service can use or even share a farm’s data with third parties.
The inverse of that practice, one employed by all AGCO brands, is to ask the customer to opt in to share data. “We don’t allow ourselves to have access to the customer’s information without approval,” says Jason O’Flanagan, senior marketing specialist for AGCO’s Advanced Technology Solutions (ATS).
“We’ve isolated ourselves so the farmer trusts in the fact AGCO is there as an assistant along the way,” says O’Flanagan, noting that if the customer gives AGCO permission to use the data, the dealer and company can monitor the operation of their machinery, helping with maintenance and warning of possible problems. He adds that the collection of such data, by sharing it with AGCO engineers, also helps develop innovations faster.
Knowing up front who has access to your data is imperative, says O’Flanagan. “Would you give just anyone your W-2 or your tax return?” he asks. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people would say ‘No.’ When someone else takes your yield and application maps, and planning maps, you are giving them a complete view of how your farm works. You need to know who has that information, and you need to trust them to use that data carefully.”
To learn more about AGCO’s on and off board technologies and the Fuse Technologies strategy, visit http://www.agcotechnologies.com/.
Recently, residents watched with interest as a big red AGCO sign was erected off Highway 401 in Woodstock, Ontario. The AGCO name outside the new 67,000-square-foot, full-stocking Parts Distribution Center (PDC) is just one sign of the big changes in store for area dealers and farmers.
Now with the new Woodstock PDC, parts deliveries across Eastern Canada will be delivered in 50 to 65% less time, some in as little as four hours or less.
The convenient location cuts transit time, but as a full-service facility, the Woodstock PDC also offers 40% more parts. It’s the fourth AGCO Parts facility to be upgraded since 2010. For dealers like Dey’s Equipment Centre Inc., the full-service PDC is a sign of AGCO’s commitment to meeting the needs of its customers.
Dey, owner of Dey’s Equipment Centre in nearby Tillsonburg, helped lead the charge to bring the new parts center to Eastern Canada. He’s pleased that the state-of-the-art facility includes a service training center for AGCO technicians and sales personnel, saving more time and money by eliminating the need to travel to the U.S. for training.
“The new PDC has more parts available, a convenient location and close-to-home training facilities,” Dey says. “It’s the best thing AGCO’s ever done for us and for our customers.”
To read more, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/advantage/more-agco-parts-half-the-time/. For more information on genuine AGCO Parts, see AGCOParts.com.