WASHINGTON — Agribusiness leaders introduced new software technology Tuesday that they said would make American farmers more competitive by reducing uncertainty created by climate change and trade policies.
DTN/The Progressive Farmer Director Mary Tangen stressed the importance of software systems that predict or monitor conditions like weather, insects and disease — conditions that have become more variable given “increased weather volatility” caused by climate change.
Agriculture is especially vulnerable to variations in precipitation and insect populations, which can exacerbate crop diseases and result in costly damage for farmers. Tangen said early warning systems that detect these variations allow people to respond in advance and avert major losses.
The health of the agribusiness industry, which deals with the production, distribution and sale of agricultural products, is dependent on American farmers lowering their crop costs and maximizing food output. Hardware technology like drones and software technology like programs that better analyze the plants and soil, leaders said, are key to reducing costs and remaining globally competitive.
While agriculture output accounts for only about 1 percent of the country’s GDP, its direct relationship to sectors like forestry, fishing, textiles and food services means it supports millions of jobs beyond farming itself, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group found that the agriculture industry is struggling with rising levels of debt and declining levels of net income. The analysis suggested that Trump administration policies such as cutting taxes and rolling back environmental regulations would mostly work to benefit farmers by relaxing financial constraints and reducing screening programs for certain chemicals in pesticides.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau, however, has said that the tariffs prompted by Trump’s trade war with China cost the state more than $1 billion in lost agricultural revenue and increased losses due to declining global demand and low prices for products such as corn, soybeans, milk and beef. Even with Trump’s $12 billion bailout program intended to provide relief to farmers last year, farm bankruptcies in the Upper Midwest have steadily risen since 2014, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota. At least 84 farms filed for bankruptcy between June 2017 and June 2018, compared to the 32 that went bankrupt in 2014.
United Quality Cooperative Controller Kim Meyer said expanding access to the software tools presented at the conference can both reduce the threat of nature-related factors to farmers’ crop outputs and help farmers understand what political events like a trade war mean for their profitability.