Robots that milk cows? Charcuterie fresh from the farm? Ready or not, the future is here. The farmer of the future leverages technology and diversification to build a successful, sustainable farm business. Their business mind-set likens them to entrepreneurs more than the production-focused farmers of the past. The farmer of the future utilizes technology such as automation, robotics, innovative equipment, drones, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence and software to improve operations, achieve efficiencies and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
A young farmer recently converted her dairy farm to full automation. “Cows wear a smart sensor that is scanned when they enter the barn. The sensor sends information to a computer that determines the last time she was last milked and the quantity of milk given. If the cow was milked too recently she is ushered out of the barn. If not, the computer sets up the machine for the cow’s unique shape and size. Robotic arms sanitize teats, massage the udder to let down milk, and begin milking.”
The farmer shared that transitioning the dairy to full automation increased efficiency. Milk production increased too; given the choice, cows prefer to be milked 2-8 times a day. Automating the dairy alleviated labor costs and concerns. She considered all of these benefits when deciding whether or not to invest in automation, but ultimately her decision to do so was strategic. She anticipates automation is necessary to keep her farm business viable for the long-term.
We invested in innovative hay-making equipment and a commodity storage building on my farm for the same reason. In the past, it took two workers to make hay: one to drive the tractor and another to stack square bales on a hay wagon. Then one worker sent bales up the elevator, while the other pulled and stacked bales in the hay loft. Last season we purchased a grapple that allows a single farmpreneur to pick up up 10 bales from the field at a time and stack them on pallets. The farmpreneur then transports loaded pallets to a new ground-level building for storage never having touched a bale.
Farmpreneurs see diversification as a means to grow their farm business. A farmer whose family operated a commodity hog operation for years developed a value-added line of charcuterie to sell direct to consumers. His delicious line of sausages is featured at local farm to table venues and in specialty retail stores. Direct sales added a new stream of revenue to the family farm and provided him with a means to farm full-time.
Agritourism is another popular way farmpreneurs are diversifying traditional operations to grow a farm business. According to The Knot magazine, 15 percent of couples chose a barn, farm, or ranch as their wedding venue, up from just 2 percent in 2009. ¹ Opportunities for business-minded farmpreneurs abound as consumers are increasingly interested in local food and the farmers who produce it. Pick-your-owns, farm stands, and on-farm edutainment (education/entertainment) are examples. Specialty crops like hops and hemp are attracting the attention of farmpreneurs as alternative enterprises that promise profits.
Farmpreneurs are ready for the future of agriculture. They are building a legacy that not only supports their family but creates jobs and makes a positive impact on the community and agricultural industry.
Kitchener, C. (May 2018). “Why Is Everybody Getting Married in a Barn?” The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/05/barn-weddings/560099/
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