On September 13 and 14, Thompson Coburn's Agriculture & Food group hosted a hands-on
seminar for professionals in the food and agriculture industries.
The program – "From The Ground Up: A Hands-On Seminar for
Agribusiness Professionals" – was designed to give
busy professionals a deeper understanding of the challenges facing
farmers. The ultimate goal of the program was to help those
professionals tackle the complex business issues they face with an
eye toward how their decisions affect (and are affected by)
Program participants had the opportunity to step out of their
corporate role for the day, learn about numerous aspects of farming
from experienced professionals and play the role of a farmer
working to build and run a Midwestern corn or soybean farm.
As a participant in the program, I was fortunate to be able to
connect with a number of agribusiness professionals over the
two-day program and learn how this class impacted them and
broadened their awareness. We all agreed that we learned a
tremendous amount of information in just two days, but if I had to
synthesize our key takeaways, I would put them in three
First, farming is a very sophisticated business.
Farmers face myriad decisions every
crop year that could dramatically affect yield and the ultimate
success of their business. We all know that farmers must decide, at
a minimum, what crop(s) to plant and where, but that decision is
just the tip of the iceberg, and even that decision is not an easy
one. What seed (or variety of a seed) to plant is based on a host
of factors, including past performance of the variety, soil type
and drainage, resistance of the variety to common pests and fungi,
whether the variety is recommended by the local extension agent or
cooperative, crop rotation needs, market projections for various
commodities, product availability, price discounts on all inputs,
and many other factors. Farmers must also decide how they want to
market (i.e., sell) their crop once it's harvested. Should they
lock in a price early in order to avoid potential future price
decrease, or should they wait and "spot" price their crop
at harvest. But between buying and selling there are dozens of
other decisions farmers must make, and they only get one shot to
make each decision.
Second, farming is also a risky business.
There are just as many unpredictable
variables to plan for as there are choices to make. Yield and crop
damage can be affected by weather patterns, climate change, disease
and pest outbreak, pesticide drift from nearby fields, soil health
and conditions, irrigation, new technologies, and quality of
planting & harvest GPS equipment. Sales price and profit
margins can be affected by international demand, trade disruptions,
bumper crops, regulatory changes, land values and rent increases,
changes in crop insurance and price support programs, and increase
or decrease in input costs. The wide array of risk-factors and
variables affecting yield and price is enormous and each factor and
variable must be considered by the farmer.
And last, but certainly not least, technological advances have
— and always will — greatly impact farming
The invention of
biotechnology-derived seeds and their rapid and wide-scale adoption
has radically increased crop yield and has affected nearly every
aspect of farming. The current technological revolution—often
called precision agriculture—is rapidly being adopted by
farmers and agribusinesses who desire to use real time weather,
soil, and other data to decrease input costs and increase
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