How innovation turns a cautious outlook into a positive projection

Last week’s post examined the USDA Outlook long-term projections for agricultural markets and showed a 2018 decline in expected U.S. farm income. Despite this pessimistic forecast, the long-term projections reveal some positive factors, mostly due to the rising demand for food and global economic growth.

It became clear to me after attending this year’s USDA Outlook conference in Washington that there’s another reason for a positive view of agriculture’s future.

The only constant in agriculture is change

There was an overall tone of optimism and encouragement in each of the presentations; despite the  unpromising forecasts, they spoke of the resilience of farmers and the constant drive for innovation, with one presenter stating, “Innovation is a requirement, not a choice. It’s essential to survival.”

Canadian agriculture is becoming increasingly high-tech. This leads to increased productivity, lower costs, and increased producers profits. There is no lack of interesting, innovative technologies coming into the market soon, such as:

  • Facial recognition for livestock to monitor feed consumption and milk production
  • Use of drones to monitor irrigation
  • Smart driverless tractors

However, most innovations require one main ingredient that is essential to make technology work, which in some areas is still unavailable: connectivity.

High-speed internet is a key to innovation

Connecting farmers to the world is currently one of the most important hurdles for innovation. Less than half the farms in Canada reported having access to high-speed internet in 2011. Data from the 2016 Census of Agriculture is not yet available, but is almost sure to show an increase in this figure.

High-speed internet access in rural areas allows people to connect their businesses to the world. This includes simple everyday (or hourly) activities like monitoring the weather or commodity futures, or big-ticket items like the use of drones or smart tractors. In fact, the consensus at the conference was that connectivity is the number one way to support rural prosperity.

With rising global production of commodities and food, Canadian agriculture will need to innovate to stay profitable. Most likely, the push for new technologies and improving upon existing practices will deliver the optimistic future we all see for agriculture. 

Amy Carduner
Agricultural Economist

Amy joined the FCC Ag Economics team in 2017 to monitor agricultural trends and identify opportunities and challenges in the sector. Amy grew up on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan and continues to support the family operation. She holds a Master in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University and a Bachelor in Agricultural Economics from the University of Saskatchewan.