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Factory Farms Drive Technology Adoption and Sustainability Improvements

By Chris Rhodes

There was a refreshing op-ed piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago.  Typically when city-based media focus their energy on agriculture, the focus is on organic labels, artisanal foods, and craft beers – forgetting about the real work of feeding a growing population of seven billion people.  In the article, author Jayson Lusk talked about how technology is enabling fewer farmers, on less land, with a smaller environmental footprint get the work done to feed more people better food.  He highlighted that in the 1950’s farm technology would have required 180 million acres to produce the same amount of soy that is produced on 80 million US acres today, and that it would require a whopping 308 million acres to produce the corn that is currently grown on 80 million acres.  Without the technology that creates this kind of efficiency, we would not be able to feed the current population—80% of whom now live in cities.

In addition to the focus on productivity, it was nice to see an article that admits that there is no group of people who love the land more, and are better stewards of the land, than farmers.  Jayson points out that the term ‘Factory Farm’ is generally used as a pejorative, but that most farms are actually still owned by families.  He also points out that it is precisely the attention to detail, and the scale of the ‘Factory Farm’ that allows for the technology development and use that drives down the ecological cost of farming while still feeding the world.  It’s these larger farms that are driving the adoption of technology that reduces the use of water and chemicals and that allows for the low- and no-till cropping that has reduced soil erosion 40% since the 1980’s.

Finally, Jayson alludes to the immense complexity that comes with bringing together a bunch of different types of technology.  That complexity remains one of the main stumbling blocks of technology adoption, but not one that can’t be overcome.  A continued focus on driving technology through mobile devices and on connecting technology more openly will ensure that the strides we are making with technology will continue to deliver the productivity and environmental benefits we have been seeing over the last couple of decades.

For more information about how AGCO solutions are helping growers large and small become more efficient, visit www.AGCOcorp.com/Fuse.

Chris Rhodes is the Global Director of Commercial ATS (Advanced Technology Solutions) and Partnerships for Fuse®, AGCO’s next generation approach to precision farming. Chris helps ensure the delivery of Fuse technologies and services to our customers and the advancement of the Fuse open approach through industry partnerships and strategic alliances.

Shepherd’s Grain: Bridges Built, Alliances Forged

Started in 2002 by two Washington state producers, Shepherd’s Grain now includes about 60 wheat growers, mainly in the Northwestern U.S., with a few growers located as far away as Southern California and the Canadian Prairie. Although they’ve begun offering some of the milled grain at the retail level, the vast majority of what the group sells is to bakeries in Portland and Seattle. In 2015, the Shepherd’s Grain farmers produced a total of 673,000 bushels of wheat, a growth of about 720% since 2005.

“It really started,” says Mike Moran, the Shepherd’s Grain general manager, “when a lot of growers in our region realized that the way that the land had been farmed over the last few decades was not sustainable long term. In fact, because of wind and water erosion, particularly in the hilly areas of the Palouse, they were losing topsoil at a rate that meant that their families wouldn’t be able to continue to farm there if they kept doing what they were doing.”

To combat the losses, as well as improve soil health, Shepherd’s Grain farmers often work together, sharing information on what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. As a result, many have minimized, if not eliminated, tillage. For instance, Garry Esser and his son John use rotational and cover crops, and say they only till the ground every three to six years, unlike their previous practice of churning up the ground almost annually.

In addition to farming methods, Shepherd’s Grain also promotes a business model that is sustainable. Selling to bakeries via longer-term contracts, the group of farmers not only forge business relationships, but build bridges between different groups of people who often do not have much contact with each other.

“It’s really about … connecting farmers with consumers … and without that,” continues Moran, “we wouldn’t have that information flow from the consumer back to the farmer, and on the other side, really helping the consumer understand all of the complexity of farming.”

“The end users who have bought into Shepherd’s Grain have done so for a variety of reasons,” says John Esser, a Challenger customer who recently became a partner with his dad. “But I’d say at the top of the list is they’ve loved the relationship that they have with the growers.

“You know, for so many people, you go to the store, you buy bread, you go home, you eat it. Nobody really connects the farmer to the bread,” continues the younger Esser. “Shepherd’s Grain offers an opportunity for people to know the information behind where their food comes from.”

For more about how AGCO customers are involved with Shepherd’s Grain from our exclusive customer magazine, FarmLife, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/shepherds-grain-bridges-built-alliances-forged/.

A FarmLife Special Report: Passing on the Farm

SIGN UP NOW: CLICK HERE to sign up for the FarmLife email newsletter, and you’ll get instant access to the exclusive, FREE eBook download, “Guide to Succession Planning: Passing on the Farm,” with advice from top experts in both the U.S. and Canada.


“We often hear the famous phrase, ‘One day this will all be yours,’” notes Heather Watson, executive director of Farm Management Canada, a national organization devoted to assisting farmers with management decisions. “It makes it sound like succession is just a waiting game, not a long and complicated process.”

0216passon1Indeed, for many farmers the idea of embarking on such a complicated process—passing on farm land, know how and equipment—can be overwhelming, which helps explain why many farmers often avoid the topic, according to Watson. Other reasons for postponing succession planning include lack of understanding about the process, insufficient time, fear of conflict among families, an unwillingness to ask for help and concerns over costs.  Read the rest of this entry »

MF balers, Fendt tractors: AGCO combination Working Well for Australian Contractor

Victoria farmer/contractor Brad Mayfield has a new high-density Massey Ferguson 2270XD large square baler that will allow him to produce the top-quality bales his customers expect.

Brad and his wife Carla run Oakleigh Hay Contracting & Sales and each year they grow 300 hectares of crops on their farm in Victoria’s Western District to make hay for their clients in the dairy and beef industry.

“I have run a Massey Ferguson 2170 RotoCut baler for two seasons,” Brad says. “I’ve been very happy with it. It’s very reliable.”

AGCO Hay Contractor

Brad Mayfield Photos by Rob Lindblade.

“I sell the hay that I produce and am chasing the extra 20 percent weight gain in my bales, plus the extra speed when baling. Because the window for baling in the Western District is very short, speed is a definite advantage. That’s a big reason I have purchased the new MF 2270XD baler, which is also RotoCut.”

Brad says the RotoCut version of the new baler suits him very well for two reasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s not your grandpa’s farm anymore…or is it?

By:  Melissa Runge

We have all seen the stereotype of a farmer being portrayed as an older gentleman with a pitchfork in his hand, right? Indeed, if you were to glance at the 2012 US Census of Agriculture report, it would quickly become apparent that some of those stereotypical characteristics are in fact true. This study reported the average age of a principal farm owner in 2012 was 58.3 years old which is up from the average age of 57.1 years in 2007. This increase in the average age of principal owners has been a trend for more than 30 years, with no perceptible reversal in sight. While most farmers are older than the average population, that doesn’t mean he is carrying a pitchfork; think more along the lines of an iPad.

What does this mean for the farming business?  It means those who are farming are getting older and younger farmers are not lining up to enter the business. Times are changing and equipment manufacturers have an obligation to farmers to provide products that ensure this business stays relevant and exciting while not only providing value to existing customers but also attracting new customers. As with most generations, the younger set considers cash as the most important perk of a job. In 2013, Ernst & Young conducted a survey to determine which characteristics were prevalent by generation.  This survey included 1,215 cross-company professionals and grouped them into three categories:  Millennials–ages 18-32, Generation X–ages 33-48 and Boomers–ages 49-57.  Overwhelmingly it showed that cash is still the king of perks.

All of this research suggests that younger generations aren’t lining up to enter the business of large acreage farming for one reason: LACK OF CASH. Not only is it expensive to start a farming operation, if grandpa wasn’t in the business, young people are even less likely to jump into farming.  According to a 2016 report from Iowa State University which estimates the costs of crop production in Iowa, the average cost to farm an acre of land was between approximately $600 and $800 per acre. This includes the cost of machinery, seeds, chemicals, labor and land.  These ongoing costs are quite substantial and do not include any startup costs, and taken together, they are proving to be intimidating to a young farmer.

AGCO understands the need to attract these potential customers, the young farmer, but also to make our existing customers, including the seasoned farmer, more successful.  One way this can happen is through technology. Let’s face it: technology is here to stay and we must embrace it no matter what industry or generation we are in. We are all guilty of getting lost in our phone or computer from time to time; however, for Millennials this is how business is conducted. According to that same Ernst & Young survey, Millennials are regarded as the most tech savvy generation (78%) compared to Generation X (18%) and Boomers (4%). As AGCO continues to grow our Fuse Technologies product portfolio and dealers offer Fuse Connected Services, it is imperative that we keep these characteristics in mind.

By not only introducing new and updated Fuse technologies including guidance, telematics and applications to optimize the farm, the introduction of Fuse Connected Services provides customers service and support to ensure these products are being used correctly. These technologies and services are allowing farms to become more and more technology-driven, which suits the younger, future farmer demographic while also optimizing the farms of existing farmers to improve yields and profitability. melissa blog

The end result for our customers of all generations will be the same– INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY AND INCREASED PROFIT which in turn will attract more new farmers into the business and keep farming relevant and exciting.

For more information on AGCO’s precision farming products, data management policy and Fuse Connected Services, please visit www.agcocorp.com/Fuse.

Melissa Runge is the global program manager for AGCO’s Advanced Technology Solutions group.

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