Christina Trimis is content marketing manager at Growers, an ag software and data analytics provider based in North Carolina, US. She holds a BA in anthropology, with a specific focus in environmental anthropology and how agriculture affects communities.
Today’s farmers face a mounting challenge: the need to grow more food on less land. This challenge is an urgent one, as the ag industry rushes to keep up with population growth. The global population is just under 7.8 billion, and it’s believed that number will reach 10 billion by 2050. According to research from the World Resources Institute, supporting that many people will require agricultural yields to increase by 50% in the next three decades.
So what does this mean for ag retailers?
As an ag retailer, your job is to help your customers boost their crop yield to meet growing demand. But what method should you use to help your growers produce more? The answer varies from one farmer to the next, but below you’ll find five strategies that are sure to make a difference.
Each farmer you work with will have their own land, crops, and work habits. These differences will inform the strategies you use to help them increase crop production – and therefore, you need to understand how to implement several different strategies.
This is a fairly basic one: to produce more crops, plant more crops. The easiest way to do this is to expand the current operation – in other words, acquire more land. This is the most common method farmers use to increase yields. It doesn’t require new planting schedules, new technology, or even new seeds; all a farmer needs to do is continue their current work on a larger scale.
However, it is important to remember that ‘more of the same’ will not always maximize your client’s crop production. Ag retailers should first look at a farmer’s current operation and see if there are other ways to make their crops more efficient before expanding into new acreage.
If a farmer wants to increase crop yield, they probably want to boost their bottom line. This makes perfect sense – everyone wants to make more money. But sometimes, the best way to earn more is actually to do less. In these cases, the best thing a farmer can do is specialize.
Farmers who focus on high-value crops (according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, these include corn, soybeans, and wheat) can earn more on their yield than farmers who grow crops with a lower cost per acre. If your growers focus their energy on these high-demand, high-value crops, they will likely get a greater price for their harvest each year. Additionally, specializing in one crop can help a grower streamline the production process, which can help reduce labor costs and increase their net earnings.
In contrast to the specialization strategy, farmers can also increase crop yield by diversifying their fields. This strategy involves planting a variety of crops across their land, in the hope of seeing a greater total yield across the entire farm.
The diversification method can be extremely effective, as plants that grow well as companions – for example, basil and tomato, or corn and zucchini – can see a greater yield from a diversified field. Additionally, diversifying can also spread a farmer’s risk; if one crop underperforms, there’s always another that could pick up the slack.
Let’s say that your client doesn’t have the room to expand his land, nor does he have the space to diversify. Perhaps he’s already growing a high-value crop, so specialization wouldn’t change his earnings. What do you suggest to help him increase yield? In this case, the best choice might be intensification.
In this situation, the farmer can modernize his production methods and tools to allow for greater production and a greater yield. This might involve double planting, treating the soil to become more nutrient-rich, and using planning tools to become more efficient overall.
Finally, the last strategy might be the oldest one in the book: asking your colleagues for assistance. Farmers can network with other growers to create a network or farming cooperative. Through this network, farmers can share machinery, personnel, seed, and more. This strategy often reduces overhead costs and helps a farmer keep more of the money he or she earns each year.
How to select the best strategy for your farmers
Each of the strategies we’ve discussed above can be highly beneficial for a farmer. However, this doesn’t mean that every strategy works for every farmer. Ag retailers must analyze their client’s land and current farming operation to determine the best way to help them increase crop yields — and luckily, there are many agritech tools available to help you do just that.
Soil testing and analysis
Soil testing offers ag retailers invaluable data about their client’s land. Through a soil test, you can determine if a farmer’s land needs more fertilizer, less water, or even if certain crops will perform better in certain areas. This information is vital when helping a farmer plan their crops, and it can tell you which yield-boosting strategy is most likely to be a success.
You can use soil testing software to get quick and accurate results from any part of a customer’s land. You can even use GPS coordinates to identify specific parts of a field – a great idea if you plan to diversify or intensify a client’s land. With soil testing and crop planning software, you can create a highly precise plan that maximizes the farmer’s harvest.
Sometimes, it’s hard to be 100% sure if your strategy will pay off. Will a farmer’s field respond well to planting changes? Will price projections make a certain crop less valuable? Will an increased yield really offset the cost of expansion? No ag retailer wants to take risks with their clients – so before you make any suggestions, it’s wise to run a ‘what-if ‘ analysis.
There are several different software programs available today that run simulations for your client’s land. If you enter data about their crops, their soil, and other important variables, you’ll get a detailed idea of how certain changes can affect the land. This is great for cost-benefit analysis, as it helps the farmer see her or his level of risk.
With the right technology, you can help farmers make the best possible choices for their land. This will help them increase their yields and their earnings – and it will help you gain lifelong clients for your business.