If you haven’t been down the breakfast aisle at your local grocery store lately you probably haven’t seen some of the big changes going on in the food industry. Cheerios has gone non-GMO and there are several other brands and boxes that are now doing the same thing. Non-GMO is the trend and more and more companies like General Mills know it and there is already serious product segregation going on in the consumer marketplace.
So what does all this mean for production agriculture and more specifically for precision agriculture? Well in short – it is time for producers to wake up to what is going on. A growing number of consumers say they don’t want GMO’s as a part of their diet. That’s a big problem because, according to the latest numbers, over 90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified.
It is becoming increasingly evident that producers are losing the trust of their customers. It doesn’t matter to them whether the science is sound – they simply don’t like sound of “genetically-modified.” In their eyes its just not natural. GMO is a three-letter acronym looked at in the same vein as the IRS, the KGB and DDT. Like it or not the poor perception of GMO’s has become reality and that is not likely to change anytime soon.
That’s why the Walmarts and the General Mills of the world are doing what any sound business would do – they are listening to their customer and giving them what they want. Appeasing the consumers of today – especially the millennials – will not be as easy as just printing the words Non-GMO on the side of a cereal box. It doesn’t end there. They want to know the story of how their food was produced and where it came from. Farm to fork is finally here and that’s where precision ag has a huge role to play.
“Trust, but verify” were the words used by Ronald Reagan when dealing with the Soviet Union over the issue of nuclear warheads. Modern consumers want the same thing when it comes to their food. Producers will have to prove where it came from, what seeds were used to plant it, what inputs were used to grow it and what farming practices were used to produce it.
That’s where the tools of precision must go to work. Every field operation will have to be documented digitally. The old pocket notebook just isn’t going to cut it. Fields where non-GMO crops are planted will have to be geo-tagged and all production information will have to be made readily available to the buyers in this new non-GMO marketplace. That means information must be complete, correct and timely – not the chaos that characterizes most precision data today.
Whereas most precision technology that has been deployed to date has been more about solving on-farm production and economic challenges such as yield monitoring and autosteer – this next round will go far beyond the farm. Instantaneous wireless data transfer from the field will become standard fare. Meanwhile, RFID technology or some version of it will likely track the seeds going in the ground and the grain coming out at harvest. Cloud computing and a centralized online account shared between the producer and key players in the food chain will replace USB sticks and the office PC. And on-farm sensors that monitor weather, resource usage and even the quality of the grain in the bin after harvest are all part of the transformation of the farm that will be driven – correct that – demanded by the modern consumer.
The bottom line is that producers who want to remain relevant in the future are going to have to wake up and gear up – soon. If you’re thinking about producing non-GMO crops then you better be getting your digital ducks in a row. Documentation will be your passport in order to be able to play in this two-tiered marketplace. The big question is – do you have your passport?
One place you can get your initial precision passport is Prime Meridian through their Precision First program. Precision First is a precision data management plan for producers that ensures that comprehensive key production data is collected and recorded correctly. Planting data, yield data along with standardized variety naming and tracking are all part of the package that can easily be shared with third parties – perfect for those considering producing for the emerging non-GMO market. For more information on Precision First and other data management technologies contact Justin Ogle at Prime Meridian at 417-667-4471 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.