5 agricultural trends to watch in 2018

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2018 trends, graphic with chart
Top 5 trends to watch in 2018

SALEM, Ohio — The top five trends to watch for in 2018 are sure to keep farmers on top of their game.

With an increased number of events causing hysteria, with the rise of “fake news,” an overload of news in general  — thanks to the world being at our fingertips — farmers have to work harder to tell their story, said Jim Carroll, futurist.

“All producers need to be honest in explaining the humane treatment of animals, to explain what they do. We need real ag folks to tell our story, we’ve got to increase real news,” he said.

Social media is the key, and farmers haven’t been in the conversation enough, Carroll said.

This year, we need to keep our eye on emerging issues, agritourism and marketing, adds Brad Bergefurd, Ohio State Extension horticulture specialist and educator in Scioto County.

In addition to the continuous need to tell our story, experts believe these five issues will be trending in 2018:

1. Increased speed of change

We’ve been talking about it for years, and now it’s happening: Young people are returning to the family farm — the iPod generation is gaining the reins, said Jim Carroll.

“The speed of change will pick up; those returning to the farm are open to all these new ideas,” said Carroll, who travels the country talking about the future. “People are scared of the future, but want to understand it.”

The average age of farmers is 58. Their average age has been inching upward for approximately 30 years, according to the USDA’s Census of Agriculture.

The census shows that during the past 30 years, the average age of U.S. farmers has grown by nearly eight years, from 50.5 years to 58.3 years, but that is about to change, warns Carroll, and that change brings rapid innovation adoption.

2. Fitbits for cows

A world with animal and crop health sensors will continue to flourish this year.

“Fitbits for cows, chickens, pigs — we see it happening now, but it will expand,” said Carroll.

Using drones to fly over herds to check on the health is happening. Farmers are monitoring the gestation of an animal, getting notifications from their iPhone, he said.

“We’ll see connectivity as a management practice,” Carroll said. “Being connected can save time and money on animal health.”

“Data analysis in the year ahead will supplement what farmers know intuitively,” he said, “and, in some cases, challenge those assumptions.”

New products rely on aerial satellite imagery, greenness sensors, soil maps and millions of weather data points — this innovation meshed with a group of early adopters is sure to keep technology pushed to the limits.

3. Global trade advocates

Global trade matters, it always has and it always will, agree Carroll and Tanner Ehmke, a former wheat farmer who is now the Knowledge Exchange manger at CoBank.

“Of course farmers in the Midwest are saying ‘don’t take apart NAFTA.’ NAFTA does matter,” said Carroll.

“Without a global perspective, the cost of food will double or worse. Without NAFTA, markets will be lost, trading partners and labor forces will be lost,” Ehmke said.

“There is room to be optimistic in trade in 2018,” he said. “But, we can’t lose NAFTA. No bilateral trade deals can replace the benefits of NAFTA.”

4. Labor shortages

Labor shortages will continue for highly skilled stoop labor, which tend to Ohio fruit, orchard, nursery, hops and vegetable crops, said Bergefurd, who focuses on specialty crops across Ohio.

“There were major labor shortages on Ohio farms in 2017, resulting in many acres of vegetables and some fruit not being harvested due to shortage of hand harvest labor,” he said.

He foresees a shortage of high quality, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Several large farms don’t have the needed labor, and, as a result, they are changing operations and not producing as many — or any — specialty crops, and are growing more grain crops instead, Bergefurd said.

Bergefurd predicts the acreage devoted to mechanically harvested pickling cucumbers will increase in northwest Ohio and few acres of the 80-year-old traditional, hand-harvested pickling cucumbers of Ohio will be planted due to labor shortages.

“Farmers who will plant hand-harvest pickles will adopt the use of harvest aids and will continue to move away from the crop share method that has historically been used,” he said.

5. Hitting bottom

“2018 looks like we will hit bottom, with grain and dairy prices bottoming out,” said Ehmke, who works to provide strategic insights about trends, structural change, and policy directives within the key rural industries served by CoBank.

“In 2018, we will see farm stress get worse before it gets better. We need to be proficient thinkers and use our relationships to get by.”

The world supply of crops will get tighter this year as usage picks up — starting to match with production, he said.

“We see the world demand, especially in Southeast Asia going up, and that is a good thing.”

Politically, trade uncertainty looks to continue this year, which won’t help the markets. Dairy prices continue to be under stress, as we see expansion globally, he said.

As prices hit bottom, Ehmke is optimistic that they will start to go the other way in 2019.

“I hope to see the dollar soften a bit. It won’t be a game changer this year, but it will start to help,” he said.

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Katy Mumaw is a graduate of Ohio State University where she studied agricultural communications and Oklahoma State University earning her master's in agricultural leadership. She enjoys family time and sharing the stories of agriculture.

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