We usually don’t consider farming as a small business and so don’t take interest in how much innovation is taking place today on modern farms.
Perhaps it’s because farms are outside the cities. We may only consider farming when we see headlines in the newspapers on farm attacks, labour problems and crop surpluses or shortages.
But these days innovation is taking place in many areas on farms with farmers challenged by the need to reduce costs, increase yields and better protect themselves.
Some of us might not realise that innovation in agriculture in the ancient world played a big role in human development and population growth. If we go back in history people were hunter gatherers, needing to follow herds of game and search for bushes that produced berries and fruit. Agriculture helped change the path of human development. By growing crops, people could settle in an area and not have to go on long and dangerous journeys.
Even at the beginning of this century farmers were, for example, quick to adopt wind power for irrigation particularly in remote areas. It wasn’t until the early electricity companies enticed them to connect to the grid that farmers let go of wind power on a larger scale.
We forget just how innovative and hardy the pioneer farmers were even in this country as they needed to improvise and make tools and implements themselves. In those early times there wasn’t a Builders Warehouse or agricultural farming co-op stores on every corner. Even in the Richtersveld when farmers arrived on the scene, there were no trees. They devised a system where they built Corbel houses with stone roofs — you can see some remaining ones if you visit places like Carnarvon in the Karoo.
I’ve seen this pioneering spirit first-hand when I went to stay on a farm in Namibia. The farmer needed to make a trailer to tow a Land Cruiser to Windhoek. In two days, over a weekend, he cut steel pipes, welded them together and spray-painted the finished unit. The trailer was ready to transport the 4×4 on the Monday. This trailer looked so professional that you could have put it up for sale in a recreational vehicle accessories showroom.
Yet the farming business faces a grim red harvest. Farmers and their families are gunned down in cold blood, murdered, raped and tortured. Acts of depravity by perpetrators descend into new depths of madness. Horrific, gruesome atrocities that are inhumane and abnormal.
As the world population increases and weather patterns change, farming will become more important so it seems foolhardy to attack the hand that feeds the mouth — millions of mouths.
Another challenge small farmers face is the higher cost of electricity and fuel as well as raw materials, seed, feedstock and labour. Yet changes brings about innovation: new and more effective growing and feeding methods, new technology for irrigation systems, streamlined distribution, online markets, expansion into new areas and high-skilled labour.
I’ve been to farms where I have not only seen renewable energy such as solar starting to be used in all sorts of applications (including security) but also new automation technology to drive down the costs of higher energy using equipment for irrigation systems.
Technology on farms now includes computer monitoring systems, GPS locators, self-steer for advanced tractors, more accurate dispensing of feed, seed and fertilizer. Nanotechnology and genetic engineering are expected to be introduced too.
Farmers in the US have been able to plant different seed hybrids for years. But switching hybrids on-the-go during planting has not been possible until the introduction by Raven Industries in June of a planter that can switch seed hybrids on-the-go to match ground conditions.
The plethora of agricultural apps available on tablets and mobile devices shows farmers’ quick adoption of mobile and tablet technology. Apps help farmers check commodity prices, monitor the weather, plan optimum seeding rates,
Innovation on farms is taking place far more more rapidly than we think.
New business models are being formed. A venture capital arm of Old Mutual recently reported in “Business Day” on a new business model for farming investment — leasing land to farmers — with farmland returns of about 8% above inflation.
The whole point of this is that small business owners and start-ups who are perhaps working in less hostile environments can take inspiration from the small farming business owner. It’s through the spirit of innovation, use of new technology and trying to get workers and communities to work together in harmony that farmers will help to improve conditions favourable to farming.
It would be much better for all of us if the red harvest is plucked from the soil so that a green harvest can take its place and spread on a wider scale. Ultimately we are all dependent on the land.