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Tractor driver helps to end dangerous police chase

You never know what they day has in store for you — just ask Buzz Palmer. Palmer thought he would be working on his garden when in reality, he helped police put an end to a dangerous chase in North Carolina. Using his Kabota tractor, Palmer bumped the tractor into high gear and parked across the driveway to block the car from getting past him. Although the vehicle was able to get around the tractor, it ended up in a pond seconds later, putting an end to the dangerous chase. 

Palmer said, “I was gonna T-bone him. I put it in high gear, got my RPMs up, and turned facing that way to block this, where he wasn’t coming through.” Palmer continued, “He needed to be taken off the road. I had equipment, which was my tractor, and I had opportunity since he was coming at me. So, it was that simple. If everybody stood up and did what they had to do, life would be a lot easier. Sometimes you just gotta step in.”

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Carbon program from Bayer offers growers new opportunities

In the year since Bayer announced its carbon program, the conversation around carbon sequestration in the ag community has really taken off.  To continue improving on that, Bayer has added enhancements to the program, providing new opportunities for U.S. growers to participate for the 2021-22 program season.

Highlights include a significant geographic expansion, nearly doubling the number of states where growers are eligible to participate. For the first time, growers who have previously adopted some climate-smart farming practices also may be able to enroll those acres in the program.

The Bayer Carbon Program takes a farmer-centric approach by offering growers simplicity, certainty, and flexibility. By paying U.S. farmers for implementing climate-smart farming methods such as strip- or no-till and cover crops, which help sequester carbon in the soil, farmers receive guaranteed payments and are rewarded for how they produce, not just what they produce.

The streamlined approach has become a hallmark of Bayer’s program. It offers certainty and pays growers for the verified practices farmers adopt on each enrolled acre, without growers having to decipher the amount of carbon they generate.

“Through our Carbon Advisory Panel and meetings with growers, we’ve heard from farmers that they appreciate the simplicity of the program, which allows them to focus on what they do best — raise a crop,” said Leo Bastos, Head of Carbon Business Model.

In addition to generating additional revenue, participating in initiatives like the Bayer Carbon Program and implementing climate-smart farming practices may provide farmers with important benefits such as the potential for improved soil health that can result in increased yields and profitability of farmers’ operations.

Enhancements for the 2021-22 program season include eligibility for growers who have adopted strip- or no-till or cover crops on fields on or after January 1, 2012.

In addition to the nine states that were part of the program’s first year, new states where growers are now eligible to participate include: Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Maryland, and Delaware.

For a complete list of eligible geographies, to learn more or enroll in the 2021 Bayer Carbon Program, visit their website.

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The skills needed to manage a farm in the future

Due to technology, the agriculture industry has drastically changed in the past 50 years. To keep up with the evolving times, farmers and ranchers will also have to change how they manage their business and their employees in the future, according to Michael Langemeier and Michael Boehlje from the Center for Commercial Agriculture, Purdue University.

Staffing and Managing the Workforce

Even though the quantity of labor used in production agriculture has been declining for decades, improving labor efficiency and finding the “right people” for the “right jobs” remains imperative to the success of farms and ranches. In general, labor efficiency can be improved by investing in more capital per worker and/or the adoption of less labor-intensive technologies. As a farm increases capital per worker, particularly in today’s environment where many of the new technologies utilize automation, it is important to assess whether the farm’s employees have the prerequisite capabilities and skills to fully take advantage of new technologies. As noted by Langemeier and Boehlje, technology is a key driver influencing both financial performance and consolidation in production agriculture.

Precision farming will require a different (or at least enhanced) “mental model” of the farm manager and farm workforce. Choosing and using precision farming tools and technologies requires an enhanced appreciation and understanding of science and fact-based decision making. This includes a more advanced understanding of the biological and physical sciences to frame these decisions, and the ability to use data analytics and quantitative analysis tools such as statistical analysis and optimization models to make these decisions. Which is why it is essential to bring new capabilities and skills into the farm of the future.

Skill Assessment

One of the ways to get a handle on the farm’s ability and proficiency with regard to a skill set such as working with new technologies is to perform a skill assessment, which simply stated is an evaluation of each individual’s ability to perform a specific skill or set of skills. A skill assessment measures what employees can do, and does not distinguish whether those skills were obtained through education or experience. Skill assessments are often used when recruiting, for career development, and when rapidly adopting new technologies which require new skills, reskilling, or upskilling.

It is also important to evaluate production skills and management practice skills. For production skills, Langemeier noted the importance of using a suite of technologies that provides the most efficient use of inputs, employing consultants to assist with difficult or complex production problems, and charting key production efficiency measures. When using management practice skills, Langemeier discussed the importance of developing a strategic plan that identifies “strategic issues”. One of the components of a strategic plan is a regular assessment of technology needs for the business and a financial plan that examines how the business is going to pay for new technologies.

Skill Gaps

The emergence of precision farming and in particular automation technologies is rapidly changing the nature of work for all businesses, including farms and ranches. To maintain a competitive advantage, farm operators will need to take a more active role in identifying the capabilities and skills needed by the business, and to develop mechanisms to recruit, train, and retain employees. As part of a skill assessment, it is important to identify “gaps in capabilities and skills” and to determine how the business is going to address these gaps. 

Table 1 illustrates current capabilities and skills with potential future skills needed in production agriculture. This table was adapted from Willcocks (2020). To summarize the table, skills related to those that are difficult for machines to emulate (e.g., creativity, leadership, strategic positioning, and interpretation of data and information from precision agriculture technologies) will be critical to the farms in the future. Individual farms need to assess whether they have someone on board that has these capabilities and skills. If they don’t, would it be possible to contract for these skills? More options related to developing the workforce of the future are discussed below. From a time management standpoint, one of the upsides of current trends in automation is that it may free up employees to spend more time on their distinctive human capabilities and skills (e.g., interpretation of data and information from precision agriculture technologies) rather than on predictable physical work, potentially augmenting labor productivity.

In addition to discussing changes in skills needed in the workforce as businesses adopt automation technologies, there is also a potential change in the business workforce environment and options for companies to build the workforce of the future. Though the authors focus their discussion on businesses with numerous employees, many of the concepts discussed also apply to small businesses.

In terms of the workforce environment, developing a mindset of life-long learning, stressing collaboration, and making sure that we have personnel that are responsible for leadership tasks, for supervising and training employees, and for developing a strategy to purchase and fully utilize precision agriculture technologies is important. Options for building the workforce of the future include retraining current employees, redeploying employees so that they can focus on future skills needed, hiring individuals with specific automation skills, contracting with outside parties for a portion of the automation skills needed, and removing skills that are not as pertinent as they have been historically. Even with a small workforce, farms will likely use a combination of these options rather than just one of the options.

The authors also predict there will be a substantial competition for individuals with distinctive human capabilities and skills. Having these individuals in place or making sure that one of the operators or employees has the necessary skills set is likely to be critical to a farm’s competitive advantage. Thus, developing a plan to develop or obtain these skills from an outside party is very important.

Farmers know that production agriculture is changing very rapidly. Adopting precision farming and automation technologies (e.g., robotics, drones, autonomous machines) will be critical to a farm’s competitive advantage. Each farm needs to evaluate whether it has the workforce in place to take full advantage of precision agriculture and automation technologies, or develop a plan to access these capabilities and skills from an outside party.

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Why dairy farmers don’t stop for Earth Day

Earth Day is just a few days away. And while it’s nice to have a day set aside to remember how everyone needs to care for, protect and, in some cases, restore our planet, the National Milk Producers Federation reminds us to forgive dairy farmers if you don’t see much of a pause on Thursday.

That’s in part because dairy never stops. Dairy farmers produce a perishable product harvested around the clock, every day of the year. It’s also because dairy’s leadership in sustainable agriculture also happens every day. Promoting soil health, optimizing water use, improving water quality, and more, ensures dairy farmers can keep farming for generations to come.

Dairy farming is an inherently renewable cycle. Cows eat crops and byproducts that humans can’t digest. They produce milk that nourishes people. And their manure provides nutrients to grow crops, which starts the cycle again. Dairy-farm livelihoods depend on healthy, vibrant ecosystems — and well-operated dairies of any size, in any region, enhance the ecosystems that surround them.

This is becoming even more true thanks to continued improvements in farming practices, as methods and technologies evolve and science better understands what works best. Dairy farms nationwide are adopting conservation tillage, diversifying their crop rotations, and cultivating cover crops to improve soil health. They’re adding precision feed management that improves cow health and achieves production efficiencies. And they’re innovating with manure management technologies that produce energy and reduce impacts on air and water quality.

All this, and more, helped reduce the amount of water required to produce a gallon of milk in 2017 by 30 percent compared to a decade earlier. That gallon also required 21 percent less land and a 19 percent smaller carbon footprint over the same period. That’s equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by half a million acres of U.S. forest, or eliminating the average water consumption of approximately 29 million U.S. households. Since 2005, North America, where U.S. production dominates, has been the only region in the world that’s increased milk production while also reducing absolute emissions, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

On-farm sustainability reverberates across the dairy supply chain, forging a path toward ambitious industrywide goals.

  • The Net Zero Initiative, launched last year by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, will help U.S. dairy farms of all sizes and geographies implement new technologies and adopt economically viable practices in feed production, cow care, energy efficiency and manure management, making progress toward greenhouse-gas emission reductions and improving water quality and quantity as well as farmer livelihoods.
  • In tandem, the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment is a social responsibility pledge through which the U.S. dairy community demonstrates progress in areas including animal care, environmental stewardship, food safety and traceability, and contributions to communities. As of last December, 32 dairy companies representing 74 percent of the nation’s milk production voluntarily adopted the commitment, contributing to U.S. dairy’s ability to track, aggregate and report on progress.

Key to that tracking: The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program, launched FARM Environmental Stewardship in 2017. This program provides dairy farmers, their cooperatives, and processors with a streamlined, single source for conducting voluntary on-farm environmental assessments and communicating progress. Today, 78 percent of the domestic U.S. milk supply comes from dairy cooperatives and processors who participate in the program.

Despite differences in geography, technology, and management style, dairy farmers are unified by a core concept: care for the planet that sustains them and their customers. In tangible, measurable ways, dairy farmers have much to celebrate on Earth Day. Just don’t expect them to take a lot of time commemorating — there’s too much leading to do. 

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