A new year brings new hope and new predictions. Gazing into my crystal ball, here’s what’s taking shape in 2024:
“Just in time” fertilizer application will continue. Granted, I still saw lots of knife-marked farm fields across Illinois while I was home for the holidays. But the practice of applying nutrients exactly when they are needed is a growing trend that’s both economically and environmentally viable. And it’s being fueled by a number of factors. While fertilizer prices have dropped, they still remain historically high. Tissue and soil sampling methods continue to become more sophisticated. A surge in interest rates and cooled commodity prices are motivating a more prudent approach. Judicial nutrient application is rewarded via premiums for sustainably produced crops and lower CI scores. And new research and education is changing mindsets.
Regen ag practices will continue to gain traction. This is no passing fad. The appetite for information is evolving into a desire for real-world action plans. We’re now another year closer to lofty, end-of-decade goals set by C-Suites of food and fashion brands and retailers. Market demand is driving the movement for sustainably produced food and fiber, as is pressure from Wall Street and governments. Most importantly, we’re seeing more and more success stories from farmers utilizing these nature-friendly practices.
AI will have far-reaching effects. AI platforms appear poised to change the landscape of farming, perhaps even greater than GPS satellites or biotech did last century. AI can provide a predictive modeling platform to manage crop inputs decisions and the use of cultural practices. Farmers will now have a powerful tool to base virtually all management decisions. Products will be chosen based on their proven capacity to offer profit per acre, as it relates not only to production and crop quality, but securing premiums based on CI scores and sustainable production methods. Moreover, these predictive modeling scenarios won’t be just product-by-product or year-to-year: they will drive overall operational efficiency and production over multiple years.
Political fallout. In case you haven’t heard, 2024 is a major election year. With Iowa being the first stop on the primary circuit, we’ve already heard of one candidate offering to move many USDA operations to the Midwest. Agriculture will continue to serve as a political means to create positive climate action, it’s just a matter of how and how much. Regardless of which party takes power in the White House and Congress, changes will be made. Sure, a change in leadership likely means broader policy changes. But history shows that second term administrations tend to govern differently than they did in the first term. Promises and policies made surrounding the environment, rural development, trade relations and labor figure to impact the entire ag industry.
Foreign land ownership scrutiny will intensify. The aforementioned political environment keeps this issue on the hot burner. “Food security is national security” is a powerful message, especially in certain states. This past year, 36 states proposed some type of legislation banning farmland ownership by potentially hostile countries. Arkansas is taking the lead, recently acting on legislation that prevents Chinese-owned companies from owning research farms in the Natural State. Other states are likely to follow.
Get ready for the next bio boom. This time, it’s in the form of biostimulants and biopesticides. Nearly three-quarters of ag retailers are currently selling some type of biostimulant, with the market poised to double by decade’s end. Attitudes among growers are shifting from products that are “nice to have” to “need to have.” Regen ag and high crop input prices will further fuel interest. From bacteria to pheromone traps, bio-controls have long been a valuable tool among specialty crop growers. But the practice may soon become omnipresent on row-crop acreage. The global biopesticide market is forecast to more than double in the next five years to over $12 billion. That will require greater penetration on row-crop acres. Just this past year, we’ve seen multiple investments (via acquisition, alliances and internal R&D) by the large life science companies to pursue bio-solutions. On the farm, pest resistance issues, chemical costs and changing pest spectrums are fostering interest. And on the store shelves, consumers are demanding it. Among organic food buyers, over 90% say a main reason they buy organic is to avoid pesticides. While one can debate whether organics actually do that, there is no debate that emotion plays a big role in consumer buying preferences.
Carbon intensity > carbon offsets. Despite much hype, the carbon offset market has not taken off. Long-term contracts, confusing payment structure and locking out those most likely to participate (growers currently employing the carbon-capturing production practices outlined within the programs) has fueled skepticism among farmers, resulting in just over 1% farmer participation. Enter carbon intensity scores, an inclusive system which will reward all growers based on a series of production practices, without long-term contracts. And the greener they farm, and continue to farm, the more green they can earn. CI scores can be utilized by biofuel makers, which taps into the vast Midwest commodities market. Much still needs to be sorted out, but progress will be made in 2024.
There will be a Farm Bill passed in 2024. I mean, it has to be, right? Look for a price tag in the range of $1.5 trillion.