SciFi in Ag: The Great ‘Small-Family-Farm’ Comeback

One company in North Dakota owns 42,000 acres of prime farmland, 34 grain elevators, a grain-trading firm, and three company towns with dozens of smaller company-owned businesses.

Never heard of it? Probably because the year is 1893.

Bonanza farms, as it was known in the second-to-last century, was an operation of over 3,000 acres. The three largest of Bonanza farms in North Dakota combined made up of over 70,000 acres. By the 1910’s, the reign of Bonanza farms was over. (The pretty cool museum in Fargo, however, still thrives).

What happened? Simply enough, the cash ran out. The bankruptcy of a railroad running through North Dakota allowed Bonanza farms their chance to flourish . Additionally, the actual sinking of the Titanic played a role in the consequential end of the era. Sadly, a major east-coast investor of Bonanza farms went down with the ship––as did his farms.

When this investor passed away, his family fought over the surplus of assets left in his farm back in North Dakota. In the end, the battle over ownership broke up the once-enormous farm into many smaller pieces.

There is, however, a scary rhetoric in the industry that farmers will be replaced by technology. I can even create a case so compelling the only question left is not if, but when.

I come from a farm and I have many friends that farm today that I get continued Snapchats on the regular consisting of progress on droughts, storms, sprayings, welding projects, calvings, and all the rest of it. The struggle to get into farming is real. It’s expensive, it’s risky, and it requires a hell of a lot of work, sleepless nights, and hopefully, very understanding spouses. It requires patience and willing families to hand down operations, and most importantly, access to land.

From my research, the underlying theme is ‘technology’ is a necessity to create disruption in farm sizes and it’s the same theme even across the centuries. In 1831, Cyrus Mccormick invented the mechanical reaper which allowed farmers to stop using scythes. Which is a 5,000 year old tool that now most people can’t even recognize the word, let alone pronounce it correctly.

The percentage of the farming population in relation to the whole population has plummeted since that invention. While the percentage of farmers has decreased an eyebrow-raising amount, the amount of people involved in ag has actually remained about the same. This same number of people produces more and more food, for more and more people.

The technology in the 1800s allowed for farmers to become bigger. With fresh, highly productive equipment, the management of such scale became possible during the same time land was cheap and accessible, especially from the railroad bankruptcy. If farms were getting bigger in the 1800s mostly due to the technology of the day, what caused them to get smaller into the next century?

Interestingly enough, the same technology that increased yields and productivity in the short run made it possible to afford farming on smaller segments of land in the long run. This actually allowed people who were farm hands during the 1800s to fulfill their own dreams of being self-employed, and begin farming themselves.

Here is the hard part to explain: farmland became cheap and at the same time farming got done on a larger scale that actually provided an opportunity for farmhands to become their own boss, and not just to make large farms larger. There wasn’t enough people to farm all the land that was possible to farm, but with the technology, all of a sudden there were enough resources to get the job done. This is why we see the percentage of farmers dwindle relative to the population, but at the same time the number of people involved in ag remain about the same.

The thesis? Access to land is essential to get into farming, if and only if the access is coupled with technology can more people get into farming. Together, this will allow more people to get into the farming industry by providing efficiency to perform. In order for farms to get smaller and be more family focused more people have to farm.

Career choice and all the struggles to start farming are in the way for families to get into it or back into it, but what if we could have more people become farmers without consuming their time and money? Consider my prior point on the concept of farms getting smaller instead of bigger due to access of land and new technologies. This framework is coming to reality (leading to the potential but not the necessity) as there is a very untapped and extremely accessible amount of land still available for agriculture use that can keep farms family run. I’m talking the 30-40 million acres that make up ‘the great American lawn’.

Lawns in the U.S. actually use up more fertilizer and more chemicals than major agricultural production, and do so inefficiently. The possibility of autonomous farming and big data could immediately transform these lagging issues into innovative solutions. What was once trade-secrets of family farms could now feed artificial intelligence platforms. This is the perfect recipe to turn this estimated 30-40 million acres of lawn land into productive farmland. I mean, the owners of the lawns don’t actually have to know how to farm. They just need to know how to program a few things here and there, and voila –– fresh food!

It seems to me we have the two very things that the 1800s had which kept farms small and family run:

  1. Access to land (lawns)
  2. Access to fresh technologies

Who knew Bonanza Farms could have a footprint in the next steps of ag?

Now for autonomous lawn farming; certainly possible within my lifetime…

##

(SOURCES)

https://ourworldindata.org/agricultural-employment/

https://sciencing.com/during-early-1800s-americans-earned-living-what-12580.html

https://www.ndstudies.gov/gr8/content/unit-iii-waves-development-1861-1920/lesson-2-making-living/topic-3-farming/section-4-bonanza-farms

https://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/22/nyregion/bidding-goodbye-to-the-great-american-lawn.html

Leave a Reply

One comment on “SciFi in Ag: The Great ‘Small-Family-Farm’ Comeback

Robotics/Labor Savers Stories
AmericasSciFi in Ag: Rolls Royce Tech On Your Planter? Robotic Bugs for Maintenance?
July 31, 2018
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversStine Seed Plunks Down $5 Million on Smart Ag’s Driverless Tractor Kit
June 14, 2018
Stine Seed Farm has invested $5 million in Smart Ag Inc., an Iowa technology firm that has developed a full Read More
Robotic-Field-Scanner
Robotics/Labor SaversChange is Coming to the Fruit Industry: Mechanization is Taking Shape
May 29, 2018
When it comes to the mechanization of the fruit industry, and the overall goal of reducing reliance on laborers who Read More
Trending Articles
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
AmericasIntegrity Ag Group: People Over Precision
July 30, 2018
It’s not every day that this reporter walks into the office of a precision ag dealer, sits across from the Read More
farmer-tractor-tablet
Systems ManagementWhat is Digital Farming — Really?
July 24, 2018
The agricultural community has spent several years synthesizing an operational description for digital farming. In several cases, there have also Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines DataStore Buyer Process
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – pardon the Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Latest News
Wheelman-Pro
Industry NewsAgJunction Expands Automatic Steering Market to Smaller…
August 14, 2018
AgJunction, the autosteering company, has introduced Wheelman, a new way for farmers to automatically and accurately steer farm equipment at Read More
Drip-irrigation
Precision IrrigationFertigation as a Precision Agriculture Tool
August 14, 2018
Fertigation is a fertilizer application method in which dissolved fertilizers are delivered to the crop through the irrigation system. This Read More
Events5 Reasons You Should Attend Growing Innovations
August 13, 2018
The specialty crop market is wracked by unprecedented change: labor scarcity, water shortages, pressing demands for increased quality and transparency Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementMicrosoft, Agile Networks Detail Central Ohio Broadband…
August 9, 2018
Agile Networks, a leading provider of telecommunications solutions, and Microsoft Corp. has announced a new agreement to bring broadband internet Read More
AmericasIvy Tech Opens Center of Excellence to Train Tomorrow&#…
August 9, 2018
Students interested in careers in precision agriculture equipment technology or diesel technology now have the opportunity to pursue certificates, technical Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
Corn field sunset
Industry NewsTrimble RTX Correction Technology Now Delivers Two Cent…
August 7, 2018
Trimble has announced that its Trimble RTX GNSS corrections technology can now achieve horizontal accuracies of better than two centimeters. Read More
Sentera-Gimbaled-Quad-Sensor
Sensors/IoTSentera Gimbaled Quad Sensor Optimizes Crop Health Data…
August 7, 2018
Sentera’s Quad sensor is now available in an integrated gimbal-stabilized package for DJI Inspire and Matrice drones. Featuring four fully-customizable Read More
BigDataSmall2
Data ManagementPrecision Agriculture: A Smaller Approach to Big Data
August 7, 2018
Big data is one of the most buzzed-about concepts in our industry. Rarely do we read a newsletter, attend a Read More
Grower-Retailer
Industry NewsAgworld, K-coe Isom Form Strategic Partnership
August 6, 2018
Agworld and K-coe Isom have announced a strategic partnership that will see them integrating business advisory and technology to deliver Read More
Industry NewsAgEagle Acquires Agribotix
August 6, 2018
AgEagle Aerial Systems has signed an agreement to acquire substantially all of the assets of Agribotix, a Boulder, CO-based drone-enabled Read More
Digital-Farming
Systems ManagementImplementing Digital Farming’s Five Major Needs
August 2, 2018
Building a house starts with a plan and then a foundation; it does not start with doors and windows. From Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
Bruce-Erickson-video
Excellence AwardsPassion for Teaching: Purdue’s Bruce Erickson
August 1, 2018
PrecisionAg Award of Excellence recipient Bruce Erickson is driven to share his knowledge of precision technologies and techniques with students, as well as the larger agriculture community. Read More
Newell-Kitchen
Excellence AwardsChasing the Mystery Behind Soil Variability: Newell Kit…
August 1, 2018
Newell Kitchen of the University of Missouri, recipient of the Legacy award in the 2018 PrecisionAg Award of Excellence program, has worked for decades to employ technology in unlocking the secrets hidden in farm fields. Read More
Nish-Majarian-video
Excellence AwardsNishan Majarian: Keeping Software Simple
August 1, 2018
Addressing the grower's true needs and making software easy to use has driven Agrian's product development from the beginning says co-founder and CEO Nishan Majarian, recipient of the 2018 Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award in the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence program Read More
Rodney-Wright-video
Excellence AwardsRodney Wright: Better Farming With Precision
August 1, 2018
Harnessing the power of precision technology leads to year-over-year improvement in productivity and stewardship, says Arkansas grower Rodney Wright, recipient of the 2018 Farmer award in the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence program. Read More
Rod Weimer and Paul Schrimpf
Australia/New ZealandPast Recipients Of The PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
July 31, 2018
Since 2007, the PrecisionAg Insititute has sponsored the annual Awards of Excellence program. Here's a list of the past winners. Read More