The agriculture industry has seen a number of significant trends rise to prominence in 2018. Their impact so far this year has been notable, and it is vital for ag professionals and the equipment manufacturers that serve the industry to not only be aware of these trends, but to consider just how they will shape the future of agriculture in both the short term and long term.

With that fact in mind, here are four ag trends that are worth keeping an eye on heading into the second half of 2018:

Governmental Policy – Where to begin…A new Farm Bill is on its way, as both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed their own versions in recent months. However, there are hurdles to overcome in the coming weeks and months related to the differences between the two, and it remains to be seen exactly when and how these differences will be addressed.

Meanwhile, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation talks also picked up late last month, and discussions have been under way for almost a year now. Looming over the latest round of  talks are recently implemented tariffs on steel and aluminum that went into effect on June 1 for Canada and Mexico, which led to immediate and significant responses from both U.S. trade partners.

These policy issues are of significant importance to the industry, and there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done before definitive conclusions can be made regarding their long-term impacts on ag.

Adoption of Technology – Ever-evolving technological advancements are having profound effects on every industry, and agriculture has been no exception. Prominent examples include crop modeling, remote sensing and variable rate applications, and futuristic concepts like robotics, machine learning and immersive reality seem like they are right around the corner.

The question that remains is how quickly the ag industry will adopt these cutting-edge technologies, as a number of factors are at play. According to a recent article in AgWeek, new technologies have a way of being variable, meaning they are effective one year, but not so much in another (largely due to changes in environmental conditions). In addition, the fact that technology exists doesn’t mean it can necessarily be applied by the industry in order to increase efficiency, improve safety or positively impact a farmer’s bottom line. Simply stated, the onus is not innovators and technology providers to make sure the solutions they provide meet the needs, wants and expectations of the industry – both now and in the future.

Sustainability and Supply Issues – Society’s growing need for food and textiles have led to the rise of sustainable agriculture as a trend to watch in recent years.

Consider the following facts: In 1915, there were roughly 1.8 billion people in the world. Now, however, there are about 7.3 billion people (and estimates suggest that number might grow to somewhere between 9.5 billion and 10 billion by 2050). As a result, farmers will need to increase their crop production – by growing crops on more land, obtaining better yields on current land, or both. Unfortunately, crop yields are growing too slowly to meet the growing demands for food worldwide. In addition, many other factors, from climate change to urbanization to a lack of investment, will also make it challenging to produce enough food over time.

A number of sustainable agriculture practices are becoming more common by the day. Farmers are employing such methods in order to promote soil health, cut down on water use and minimize the effects of pollution. In addition, sustainable methods also help promote farmer well-being and can strengthen the local economy, as well as improve supply issues like those mentioned above.

Labor Concerns

Ag’s labor shortage is reaching a crisis level, and it’s causing growers to lose both crops and income with time. Many are now being forced to consider the long-term viability of their farms, and need to make determinations regarding whether or not they want to pass them along to future generations in order for them to make their living in ag.

However, the worker shortage isn’t just limited to small family farms around the country. As immigration reform has become a hot public policy topic, farmers have increasingly relied on federal programs like the H2A guestworker visa, which offers those expecting shortages of U.S. workers the ability to employ foreign workers legally. Unfortunately, these programs aren’t always feasible, meaning they are forced to hire illegal workers or risk the consequences to their bottom lines.

The labor shortage in ag isn’t going away. In fact, it seems likely to continue to get worse with time. As of now, no real solution is imminent. 

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