Technology is now a permanent fixture in farming. The advancements in equipment are efficient but also expensive.
Ralph Howes is a production economics specialist with the Agriculture Knowledge Centre. He was the speaker at the Rotary Club of Moose Jaw’s annual rural-urban meeting at the Heritage Inn on Monday.
In his speech, Howes addressed both the advantages and concerns that come with the new agriculture technologies.
Cost is one of the primary concerns.
“It’s fine to say we go big and maybe more acres with that but for a farmer, he has to look at the economics as a cost per unit. Yes, the bigger technology requires more acres under it but if the technology’s resulting in higher yields at a decent price then that can offset it,” Howes told the Times-Herald afterwards.
As the technology improves, the results improve.
Howes said that the standards for yields have jumped substantially, even just in his lifetime.
In the past, 40 bushels of wheat was adequate. He said that number has increased to 70.
That raises a lot of questions about sustainability.
“You say, ‘well, where’s the upper limit to this?’ I think, rather than look at upper limits, we may be looking at alternatives. Alternative crops or new ways of producing food,” said Howes.
Saskatchewan is still leading in many areas, in part because of the technology that the province’s farmers have access to.
Howes said that countries like Russia and the Ukraine that were technologically behind are now catching up. This is leveling the competition.
“At times we are in competition with the rest of the world and at times we can saturate markets,” Howes said. “The weather is the one limiting factor in agriculture which you can never say, ‘we’re saturated and we’re going to stay there,’ because it could dry next year and that’ll change quickly.”
Agriculture technology doesn’t just apply to combines with GPS or tractors that can be driven by remote.
There are concerns surrounding genetic modification.
Howes was careful addressing whether all of these advancements are positive.
“I’d like to hope that we will only accept what is good there. The public can not accept something and then it will not sell too,” said Howes. “Some of those areas where you can add a protein or a mineral to a seed where it was deficient in even a poor country is a good thing. We tend to sort of only hear the bad side of these but it certainly bears watching that it isn’t exploited.”