Generational tech gap amongst farmers.

Growing up I spent many hours on farm equipment. Starting a field oftentimes meant long rounds around a field that could take 45 minutes to complete. Other than boredom there wasn’t much of a decision to start the next round. But every so often, a storm would be coming. That’s when the weather-whisperer would come out in me. How fast is the wind and what direction is it headed? Lick the thumb and move it in the air. How dark were the clouds? Will I make it around before getting soaked?
8737004032_01a5c1435f_o
A storm is coming in agriculture, one that has been brewing for ten years. There are three compelling numbers, harbingers of a dramatic shift in the agriculture economy. Those numbers are 58, -22, and 10.2. Confused? You’re not alone. Read on for focus.
peasant-rice-fields-rice-crops-colombia-50715

Fifty-eight.

That was the average age of a farm owner/operator according to 2012 Census Data. Across the country, there are hundreds of thousands of farm owners who are on the cusp of retirement. With 2.1 trillion dollars in farm assets across America (Source: UDSA) it’s no small task to manage a farm transition. There are complicated financial issues around asset transfer, cash flow planning, and estate planning. Oftentimes these decisions are clouded by emotional family issues. How does the father help support his son/daughter while remaining solvent in retirement? What if multiple family members are involved in the farm? Perhaps there is no one to pass the torch to.

-22%

This is the percent decrease of new farm owners who have been involved in the operation less than five or ten years. Taking over or starting a farm enterprise is difficult. Capital needed to start a 150-acre operation with land and equipment could easily run $500,000. In addition, finding land can be difficult as new land available is often grabbed quickly by existing operations. Thus most operations must start through inheritance or join a family.

10.2%

This is the cropland increase for large farms. By now this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise but simply confirmation of what has been read. As farm operators retire, operations are being consolidated into larger enterprises with fewer owners. As this consolidation continues, there will be a generational shift in the average age of a farm owner. A younger generation is taking over. A generation born and raised on mobile, the internet, and instant access to information.

Several years ago we bought a Microsoft Kinect system for Xbox 360. It was a revolutionary interface, controlled with the movements of the body and voice. My three-year-old daughter walked in front of it and within a few minutes knew how to use it. We played a few games together and turned it off. The next day we were at the library and this same daughter was using an “old-fashioned” computer with a mouse. It wasn’t working well so she took her hand off the mouse and began waving in front of the screen to control it like the Kinect. I tried to tell her this computer didn’t work that way.

New growers are coming to the field with the same expectations. Instant access to data. Innovative uses for technology. Better design. Improved means of communication and sharing. In the coming weeks and months, I’m hoping to dig into some of these technologies – what is here and what is coming? How is technology changing agriculture and how is agriculture changing technology?