What it takes to farm the future: How to farm with farmers
By Mark Wohlers-Kruger, Fortune contributorFarmers in Iowa and other Midwest states are working hard to boost the farm sector’s fortunes in the coming years.
But one of the biggest challenges will be growing corn and soybeans for the future.
Corn and soybean farmers are still growing corn, soybeans and other crops in part because of a weak economy.
The U.S. corn crop, which has grown by about 2 percent annually, is at its lowest point in decades, but soybean producers are hoping for a big rebound in 2020 as the drought-affected crop turns to a bumper crop of corn and other soybeans.
The challenges facing the Midwest crop have a lot to do with the growing number of farmers in the region, said Mike Taggart, an analyst at U.N. World Food Programme.
There are more than 7 million farmers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other Midwestern states, but only a handful of those are actively growing corn or soybeans, he said.
That leaves farmers with little time to farm, Taggert said.
“The farmers in a lot of those Midwestern counties are going to be growing for a long time,” he said, adding that the Midwest’s crop will likely be at least half as profitable in 20 years as it is now.
The corn and bean industry is undergoing a major transition, with many of the corn andbean plants in use for more than 40 years now going through a major transformation.
The industry is now in a state of flux and it will take a while for farmers to adjust to the new crop, said Bill Mottola, an associate professor at Cornell University who has studied the transition.
The key is to grow the crops quickly, Tabor said.
“You want to do it the fastest you can,” he explained.
Farmers will have to change from corn and beans to corn and wheat for the new year.
The corn crop is expected to be the second-largest food crop by the end of 2020, according to the U.P.E.S., which counts corn and related crops.
The wheat crop is third in size.
A new crop could be more challenging to grow than a corn or wheat crop because of the unique plant genetics of corn.
Corn has the shortest growing season of any crop and the fastest growth.
The soybeans crop, by comparison, can take years to mature.
So corn farmers have to be patient, Tascis said.
The new corn crop needs to be planted at least four to six weeks after the next crop crop.
Wheat growers will have a big challenge because the new corn and the soybeans will have very different traits.
“The corn seed is a different species,” Tascits said.
Corn will be a perennial crop that requires longer planting times, Tabbes said.
But, he added, corn and rice are not as productive as soybeans in the long term.
“Wheat is a very good crop, but there’s a lot that goes into the wheat,” he added.
“Wheat can’t be a super-crop because it’s a bit too slow.”