For Release September 28, 1999

Looking to the Future

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

A couple of weeks ago I was in Omaha, Nebraska, for the National Association of County Agricultural Agents annual meeting and professional improvement conference. The theme for this years national meeting was "Pioneering Into A New Century". (Of course, we’re still over a year away from the official start of that new century/millenium but we won’t worry about that right now.) Naturally a lot of the speakers in the general sessions and break out sessions were talking about changes and where "we" are headed.

It often doesn’t seem to matter whether we were talking about county extension work, or agriculture or society in general, the direction(s) we are headed all seem to have a lot of similarity. Everything seems to be changing faster and faster. Instant information, in the form of instant answers, is the expected norm. To illustrate this, one speaker mentioned that there are three new technologies developed every 45 seconds and three new food products every minute. We seem to be able to grasp the present just as it becomes the past.

Another speaker talked about megatrends in agriculture. Whether you agree with them or not, I think we can all see that it’s happening. We are seeing: fewer farms and bigger farms, separation of land ownership from land operation, the age of precision farming, designer crops and livestock and the coming age of contract farming.

I personally don’t think we’ll lose too many more farms. What we will see is that fewer and fewer farms will control more and more of the production. I feel that we will see an increase in small active farms that are dealing in niche and specialty markets. Contract farming and designer crops/livestock will probably play into that quite a bit.

Before this can really take off though, society and science need to have a coming together party. If Bt corn and Roundup Ready soybeans make you nervous then you aren’t going to like what’s around the corner. Look for traditional crops that have enhanced amino acids, oil, protein or just about anything. With the continued merger of seed companies and herbicide companies you will see more crops designed to be tolerant of a specific herbicide.

Unfortunately, again, science has pushed technology far beyond the human ability to deal with the change. There are a lot of question that the science has to do a better job of answering, and a lot of change that we as humans need to process. Some of our best current export markets may all of a sudden start asking for "traditional products only" or non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) products only. Regardless of whether these concerns are based on fear or fact, they may very well become the realities of the marketplace. In today's global marketplace agriculture can not forget who their customers are. The end customer is not the local elevator, but more likely some company or government a continent or an ocean away. If we don’t produce the product they want, someone else will!

What came out strong and hard is the continuing need to spend more time listening. That’s something that is all too often not done. And those of us in the information business need to make sure that we don’t let technology get in the way of information. Here, at the Geary County Extension Office, that is something we work hard to do. You don’t get an electronic menu when you call our office, you get a person. When you walk in the front door there’s real people on the other side of the counter. If you want your information in the electronic form, we can accommodate you. But for everyone else, who prefer the person to person approach, we’re still here for you!


Return to Agri-Views Home Page

Return to Ag Home Page