As is the case with any industry over time, the state of farming in the 21st century is a far cry from what Old MacDonald and his band of moo-ing cows and clucking chickens experienced. A lot has changed since the inception of that nursery rhyme. Tractors the size of semi-trucks are no longer a rarity, and they’re even more of a staple to smaller family-farm operations. Because of innovation and technological advances, human labor (while still very much needed) is often less back-breaking than in the days of low industrialization.
But human needs are now far greater than ever before. In 1928, the world population was 2 billion. By 1975, it had doubled, and today’s population size is almost quadruple that 1928 number. The land isn’t any more available than it was then, meaning the farmers of the world had to innovate new ways to get more and more crops out of the same relatively small patches of dirt. Today, with the all-too-real threats of extreme weather events, like fires, floods, and hurricanes, the global agricultural industries once again find themselves dealing with the impossible hand of reconciling a still-exploding population with an increasingly unpredictable climate.
According to a paper by the Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration, the world in 2050 will suffer a dramatic ecosystem collapse and twenty days of “lethal” heat per year if nothing is done to address the issue.
Thankfully, major figures in the agricultural sector are already getting started. Bayer has taken the initiative of recently hosting a virtual Transformative Innovation panel, where industry experts discussed the current and future status of agriculture technology. At this event, some of the main takeaways had to do with the importance of data-driven analytics in modern farming practices and methods of using existing and future technologies to make farming a more sustainable approach.
In many ways, data is the new generation’s oil. It is a newly existing, ubiquitous product, and humanity is only just beginning to understand precisely how to harness its potential for dramatically changing the world. Just as massive quantities of data are now used to inform hedge funds about investor trends on Wall Street or market user-specific advertisements to individuals on Google or Facebook, it is also becoming increasingly useful for farmers worldwide. Operations like Bridgeforth Farms are using GPS along with artificial intelligence to gather real-time weather data. This data informs farms on when and where to plant their next crop for optimal return. “A generation ago, farming was purely an art,” says Kyle Bridgeforth, co-owner of the Alabama business. “Now, you’re layering in data from several different sources to make the best decision.”
As a prominent name in agriculture, Bayer has a lot of responsibility to lead by example in encouraging sustainable practices. Not to be outdone, the company has doubled down by launching a pilot program called the Bayer Carbon Initiative, which looks to help 1,200 farmers in America and Brazil with carbon capture operations. This incentive-based program will pay farmers by the acre for running their carbon sequestration operations, where satellites will be used to monitor and verify the planting of cover crops on participating fields. “If farmers are sequestering carbon to the benefit of society and the planet, they should be rewarded for it,” says Brett Begemann, who works as the chief operating officer of the company’s Crop Science division. Bayer is investing 5 million euros in the program over the next three years, at which point the success of the program will be used to inform decisions regarding a larger-scale rollout.