Soybeans are one of the biggest crops in Arkansas, and as farmers and those in agriculture technology look to the future, the name of the game is resource conservation.
Right now, Natural State farmers grow soybeans in 50 of the state’s 75 counties, according to the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. Most of those operations are centered in eastern Arkansas, but some soybeans farmers are spread through the River Valley and southwest portions of the state.
Arkansas sees about 3.2 million acres of soybeans grown annually, according to the board. And though prices fluctuate, a statewide yield of that size averages a worth of around $500 million. Across the nation, Arkansas ranks eighth in soybean production, and people like Jeff Barnes, Precision Ag Manager with Greenway Equipment are working on the future of agriculture production for a number of crops, including soybeans.
Ask any farmer, and most will tell you constant obstacles come from shifting weather patterns and volatile market prices that can change every year. But Barnes says farmers face other problems as well, like tightening margins. Not to mention, with global population slated to surpass nine billion people by 2050, farmers are going to have to produce more food than ever before.
Barnes says one challenge Arkansas farmers face others may not in regions like the Midwest is that of irrigation.
“Irrigation is probably the number one thing,” he says.
Midwestern farmers don’t tend to have as big an issue with rainfall, according to Barnes. But in Arkansas, it can get pretty dry from April to August. Fortunately, advances in technology allow for things like remotely monitoring and managing irrigation wells to better manage timing and what the soil needs.
And it’s not just water that technological advances will help to conserve. With Blue River Technology, Barnes says the next step in smart agriculture will allow farmers to use less pesticides and herbicides. Blue River Technology actually allows for precision weed spraying in the field, reducing the amount used and saving resources. And as the technology further develops, weed removal is just going to get more accurate.
“All those things are in the grass,” Barnes says.
Reducing seed populations without hitting the crop yield is another goal for Greenway Equipment, according to Barnes. Right now, the company is working with select farmers, experimenting with changing seeding rates in field trials. Research has shown with better metering for actual seeds, growers can reduce soybean seed populations and not negatively impact total yield. This could result in reducing seed costs, Barnes says.
In 2019, the need for processing agricultural data continues to grow, and Barnes says Greenway Equipment is helping turn massive amounts of soybean field data into more useful information for farmers. The company helps to filter the data down so it’s not so overwhelming for farmers who have a lot of fields to manage. With the right data analysis, farmers can identify fields with yield variation issues, Barnes says.
Once identified, farmers can get to work fixing whatever issues those soybean fields are facing and maximize their effectiveness. It’s this data analyzation that’ll help farmers see what’s driving their yield totals down and then fix it.
Better analysis of data will also help farmers be able to identify which fields have been sprayed and with what.
One of the more obvious resources further agriculture technology developments will help manage is the fields themselves.
“We’re not getting a whole lot more land coming in,” Barnes says.
So, better managing the farmland already in existence is a big goal Greenway Equipment is working toward for the future.
“We’ve got to produce more with what we have,” he says.
Looking off toward 2025 and 2030, Barnes says automation will become key. He’s talking about tractors where an operator may not even be in the machine. And those machines work the soybean fields with accurate mapping data all on their own.
“The biggest limitation is workforce,” Barnes says.
In rural areas, the labor pool is scarce, which impacts farms that need workers. But if you introduce more machines to help with planting, harvesting and other needs around the farm, suddenly lack of workforce isn’t quite as big a challenge.
Some might be watching current China trade tensions with crops like soybeans and wondering if dropping demand impacts the development of agriculture technology. The answer to that, Barnes said, is not really. Prices go up and down, but research and development have to be consistent.
“We are continuing on,” he says.
Greenway Equipment isn’t backing off development of ag tech soybean farmers in Arkansas will use in the years to come.