The final day of workshops at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention put a focus on the role farmers will play in connecting with consumers on sustainability in agriculture and new technologies like gene editing.
President Donald Trump keynoted the Convention yesterday. Watch his full remarks HERE.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue addressed the farmers and ranchers gathered in Austin today. Watch his full remarks HERE.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) received the Distinguished Service Award and gave remarks during the General Closing Session. Watch the session HERE.
Sustainability in Animal Agriculture – Moving Beyond Buzzwords to Action
A trio of workshop speakers unpacked sustainability as a buzzword – what it means to animal agriculture and meat producers. With interest in the sustainability of meat continuing to grow, it’s more important than ever for farmers and others engaged in animal protein production or processing to engage with consumers through shared values, noted Sarah Little, vice president of communications at the North American Meat Institute.
“Shared values are more important to building trust than sharing facts or demonstrating technical expertise,” Little said. She also pointed out that consumers’ thinking about sustainability continues to evolve. “Consumers are shifting responsibility for sustainability away from themselves and more toward large companies and governments.”
Translating Sustainability to ROI
Dr. Randy Brown from WinField United discussed the opportunities and potential increase in profits of moving the industry to more sustainable farming. Eighty-three percent of consumers now consider sustainability when buying food. Dr. Brown introduced new technology from Truterra, a subsidiary of Land O’ Lakes. Truterra’s Insight Engines gives farmers access to precise data on soil health, erosion and yields. This technology could allow farmers to provide sustainably sourced crops while increasing profitability.
Finding the Right Hemp Seed a Challenge for Farmers
In a workshop titled “Laws, Regs & Other Considerations When Buying Hemp Seed,” Pat Miller, director of state affairs for the American Seed Trade Association, gave an overview of what growers need to know to ensure they get the specific quality and type of seed that meets their needs.
“Before buying seed, decide what it’s for, whether it’s for seed, oil, feed or food fiber,” Miller said. “Ask sellers for references, and ask your neighbor if they have a seed variety they really like.”
It’s also important to know where the seed was grown, Miller said. “If you’re buying seed produced in Kentucky and trying to grow it in Arizona, it may not work.”
Miller said genetics are still imperfect, but new hybrids are coming. “There’s talk about breeding out THC, which would basically solve all our problems, and certified CBD varieties will be available in the next few years. I really think that in three years a lot of the issues we are having with hemp will go away,” he said.
Building Trust in Gene Editing is Next Step for Agriculture
Gene editing can deliver significant advances for agriculture, but the challenge will be to build consumer trust in the technology. The best way to connect with consumers who have no connection to agriculture is to identify how progress from gene editing aligns with their values, according to Roxi Beck of the Center for Food Integrity. Beck says highlighting the benefits for the environment, nutrition and animal well-being resonate the most with consumers.
“The best opportunity we have to ensure that consumers hear us is to enter the conversation in a way that helps them understand we are on their side, we care about the same things they are thinking about, and ultimately this is a technology that can deliver on all the promises we are looking for, both as agriculturalists, but also as consumers,” said Beck.
The Next Wave in Ag Technology Soon to be in the Field
Farm technology innovation will focus on automation, coupled with the power of artificial intelligence, according to The Ohio University’s Dr. Scott Shearer and Chad Colby, owner of Colby AgTech.
With nearly 30 types of autonomous tractors nearing some form of commercial production and the rapid development of artificial intelligence technology that’s being miniaturized and made cost-effective and accessible, farmers are going to be considering how and when purchasing these tools will be practical for them.
But it’s not just about lab-perfect technology installed in equipment in the field, Shearer cautioned, “You’ve got to keep it in the field, and you’ve got to keep it moving.”
As for when to make a move toward new technology, Shearer said the best time is just as people are figuring out how to make money off of it. If a farmer waits until it’s widely adopted, they’ll be forced to buy it just to remain competitive.
Colby emphasized that automation and other agriculture innovations are very close to being realized.
“This isn’t concept. This is coming,” according to Colby, who said ever-improving unmanned aircraft systems and data-collecting planes will also be tools farmers are soon using.