POST-COVID-19 PANDEMIC: WHAT’S IT MEAN FOR AGRICULTURE?
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What’s ahead for agriculture after COVID-19?
COULD THERE BE A CROP COVID?
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, massive pandemics seemed relegated to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. So, could a COVID equivalent happen today in crops? There have been some ominous signs in recent years. In 2005, Asian soybean rust (which originated in Japan in 1902) ravaged Brazilian soybeans. Citrus greening (which has placed the future of U.S. citrus crops at risk) is caused by a bacterium spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. This crop plague originated in China. “Those are a couple examples of diseases that have been spread on a global basis,” says Mike Miile of Joyn Bio.
There’s a silver lining, though, Miile adds. “There’s going to be a wave of money and a push from a technology standpoint. Right now, it’s all directed toward testing and creating a vaccine. This is taking science and pushing it at an accelerated level driven by this pandemic at a speed that would not normally have occurred.”
It’s possible, though, that spillover products beneficial to agriculture could occur from this technology push, akin to the spin-off technology that resulted from the 1960s race to the moon. “At some point, it’s all going to tie together,” Miile says.
- More robotics. This trend has already started in new plants and will accelerate.
- Slower line speeds. The packing industry was designed for maximum efficiency and low cost, says Hayes. “We didn’t develop it for resiliency, and it has broken down. In the new world, we are going to have more labour at points in the chain and lower line speeds.”
- Better labelling of the product. There were a lot of packages of bacon headed for restaurants with a label saying, “Not for Retail Sale,” says Hayes. “We will find a way to get rid of permanent labels.”
- Producers going out of business and further consolidation. “There is money outside of agriculture that could buy farms for pennies on the dime, so I think we will see a whole new round of consolidation and movement to even bigger companies,” says Hayes.
- Independents are at risk. “With the closure of several plants, the remaining plants will earn good money on exports and in retail,” says Hayes. It’s the independent specialized pig owners whose only source of income is pigs (with contracts based on the negotiated price) who are most at risk.
- More Asian companies owning overseas. pig farms. This pandemic could accelerate the trend. “The Chinese have decided that their own country is too crowded with pigs, so they are going to buy production systems in countries that have more space in other countries.”
DIGITAL SEED BUSINESS EXPANDS
Compared with chemicals, seed shouldn’t suffer from potential of COVID-19- induced disruptions. “Seed is a completely different animal, because it’s much more based on local production,” says Tim Glenn of Corteva Agriscience. “We do have some production in South America. A lot of that is for producing parent seed or for producing new hybrids that we are evaluating, so the impact on our commercial lineup is quite limited. We don’t see any disruptions related to South American seed production.”
Where differences will result due to COVID-19, though, are interactions with customers. “COVID-19 is a terrible thing, but, at the same time, it has taught us to do things differently,” says Jim Hedges of WinField United. “There will still be business done face-to-face, but I think digital interaction will increase significantly. There is a certain segment of growers who will embrace a virtual experience.”
ADOPTING TECHNOLOGY SLOWS
There may be a short-term slowdown in adopting technology due to COVID-19 – but only short term. “We believe top-performing farmers will continue to look for digital solutions that improve their business,” says Aaron Rudberg of S2G Ventures. “However, those farmers will be focused on the need-to-have rather than the shiny, new toy. Specifically, products and services that drive yield improvements and reduce input costs will be more compelling than technologies that just provide data without clear insights toward actions.”
Going forward, Arama Kukutai also believes technology companies will need to meet an even higher bar before farmers are willing to change how they operate.
Source: Part of an article from the Successful Farming Publication
Post available in: English