AuthorJohn Rogers

REPOST: Agriculture is changing and so must agri economists

Even in fundamental industries such as agriculture, adapting to change is essential. Responding to the changing world is the only way to keep such sectors afloat and thriving. More insights from Farmer’s Weekly:

Agriculture is changing and so must agri economists | Photo: Dr Jack

Many agricultural economists believe that the world, including its agricultural sector, is moving from structural to fundamental change.

This will reshape value chains, business models, governments and employment, and affect the way we live and relate to one another.

As it is, farmers everywhere have already begun experiencing significant changes in markets, demand, food security, climate and technology.

Changing markets
Since about 2010, agricultural markets appear to have seen a reversal of trade liberalisation and openness. Adding to the uncertainty surrounding this trend are issues such as Brexit.

Here in South Africa, we don’t know what will happen with the SA/US AGOA agreement.

Will we see more protectionism in global agricultural trade? No-one knows, but time will tell.

Changing demand
A major topic worldwide has been population growth and how this will drive food demand. While previous projections assumed that the planet’s population would keep growing, it is
now expected to reach 11 billion by 2100 and stabilise.

Growing demand for agricultural products is also being driven by increasing personal incomes. Having more money results in a greater demand for food as well as a more varied diet.

Changing food security
Recent years have seen food security scares in certain parts of the world. These have largely been due to increasing food prices, with local populations protesting that food is becoming unaffordable. We have seen protests even here in South Africa.

Such protests could increase globally if issues of food security and affordability are not urgently and adequately addressed.

Changing climate
We are seeing more climate change-related natural disasters such as storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. The Western Cape, for example, is still in the grip of a crippling drought and has experienced major runaway fires as a result.

Changing technology
There are already a number of ‘disruptive technologies’ that are leading to what has been termed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. These include the Internet, 3D printing, advanced robotics, driverless tractors, new manufacturing materials, and genetic advancements.

Bioengineering has already created the first laboratory-manufactured hamburger patties. Could fruit and vegetables be next? In Japan, a fully automated, energy- and the water-efficient facility will soon produce 30 000 head of lettuce daily.

New technology is also one of the reasons agricultural employment around the world, and particularly in developed countries, is declining steadily. In South Africa, we are also experiencing this trend.

Continue reading HERE.

Growing these specialty crops can help turn your hobby into a profitable business

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Turning your gardening and farming interest into a profitable business can be the greatest decision that you’ll ever make, especially if you already have the right tools and resources ready. However, instead of focusing on the common greens, many gardening experts-turned-entrepreneurs have taken on the challenge of growing specialty and non-staple crops. Why?

Earning thousands of dollars per acre is not unusual for specialty crop growers not only because these herbs and crops are hard to find but they also require unique expertise to grow. Most of them are prized gourmet ingredients and other varieties are highly sought after by organic food enthusiasts.

Let’s take a look at the most profitable specialty crops today:


  1. Mushrooms

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Gourmet mushrooms such as oyster and shiitake have been the top choices for urban farmers for many years. These crops can be grown indoors and you can expect a generous return per square foot.

They are typically sold either fresh or dried, with a price ranging from $6-8$ a pound.


  1. Ginseng

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Known as the “green gold”, this medicinal plant is a popular Asian healing herb. In fact, ginseng has been around for thousands of years. Although farmers have to wait for six years before they can finally harvest ginseng’s mature roots, some growers find profit from selling seeds and its young rootlets.

Profits from an acre of ginseng plot with fully grown root can range from $180-$220. Most places with cold winters have the advantage when it comes to growing this valuable and priced crop.


  1. Gourmet Garlic

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Gourmet garlic farmers recognize three profitable types of this crop: Porcelain, Purple Stripe, and Rocambole. What makes them different from regular garlic that most people use in everyday cooking is their superb taste.

A pound of gourmet garlic is priced at $9-$11 depending on the varieties. Growing this kind of crop is less risky compared to another specialty plant because garlic can easily thrive in a wide range of weather and soil condition.

Vertical farms and their potential economic and environmental impact

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One of the biggest challenges that humanity has to face in the coming years is finding effective ways to feed the growing masses, and many experts believe that the answer lies in an alternative system of food production: vertical farming.

Vertical farming, also referred to as controlled environment agriculture (CEA), is a revolutionary approach to growing nutritious and high-quantity agricultural products without relying on resources used in traditional farming methods.

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The absence of the typical means needed to grow a healthy produce is not a problem for this alternative farming system, thanks to its reliable nutrient delivery technology and innovative lighting, these controlled farming environments can provide more crop rotations ever year than a tradition farm – without using the same amount of water and area of agricultural land.

Vertical farming is well known to be a more practical and environment-friendly option especially in the urban locations. More importantly, this kind of food production doesn’t require skilled labor.

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Most vertical farming setup uses LED lighting technology that enables minimum power usage while providing maximum plant growth. In addition, since vertical farm systems are entirely automated and has strong biosecurity procedures against common pests and disease attacks, their harvesting and tending processes don’t include harmful pesticides and foliar sprays.

One major economic advantage of vertical farming is its adaptability to be established in any geographic location in the world, regardless of the climate. In other words, it allows economically strategic positioning of farming facilities to make it closer and easily accessible to distribution hubs, eliminating expensive transport and storage costs.

The future challenges of feeding a growing population can be faced head on, thanks to the stability that this secure agricultural production system offers.

REPOST: Farmland bird decline prompts renewed calls for agriculture overhaul

How big a role do birds play in agriculture? Based on modern scientific understanding and indigenous knowledge, it’s huge. Read more from The Guardian:

Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland have seen numbers decline by almost a tenth in five years, official figures show.

Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows.

While the majority of the decline happened in between the late 1970s and 1980s as farming practices changed rapidly, there was a 9% decline between 2010 and 2015, the statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show.

The latest figures have prompted renewed calls for an overhaul of farming as the UK leaves the EU and its system of agricultural subsidies, to support wildlife and farming.

The data showed some “specialist” species, those restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats, have seen precipitous falls.

Corn buntings, grey partridge, turtle doves and tree sparrows have all suffered declines of more than 90% since 1970, though others such as stock doves and goldfinches saw populations double.

For turtle doves in particular, dramatic falls continue, with numbers down 71% between 2010 and 2015.

Elsewhere in the countryside, woodland birds have seen numbers remain relatively stable over the last five years, although they are down almost a quarter (23%) since 1970.

Across all species, including farmland, woodland, wetland and waterbirds and seabirds, numbers are down around 8% on 1970, the figures show.

Continue reading HERE.

Ecological and economic importance of mangrove forests

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Mangrove forests in tropical and subtropical regions have been sanctuaries to a wide variety of species like fish, shrimp, crab, and mollusks and their ecological role that contributed to the growth of their neighboring human communities have proven their importance for many years.

However, not everyone knows that aside from their ecological importance, mangrove forests also promote an economic boost to their nearby population centers. In fact, a recent report has summarized the estimated worth of goods and services brought by this ecosystem to reach US$186 million each year.

Let’s take a look at the important contributions of these sanctuaries to the ecology and the economy.

Timber and other plant products.

Mangrove woods have been extremely valuable sources of timber and other plant products because of their natural resistance to rotting and insect infestation. That’s why many coastal communities depend on the material that they produce for goods like fuel and construction supplies.

Aside from wood, medicinal products, animal fodder, to name a few, have been harvested from this rich ecosystem.

Strengthens and protects coastal structures.

Because of mangroves’ dense root systems, they can easily trap sediments that often flow down rivers heading off the land. The same roots can help stabilize the structures of coastlines as well as effectively prevent erosion caused by storms and heavy rains.

The presence of mangroves in areas often hit by dangerous typhoons can lessen the economic and ecological damages caused by continuous rains and flooding.

Encourages and boosts tourism in the community.

The rich and diverse species present in mangrove systems can attract tourists as well as enthusiasts, in turn contributing to a strong economic activity to its nearby communities.

Sandy beaches and vibrant and rich coral reefs surrounding mangrove systems are popular destinations for snorkeling and diving expeditions.

In addition, tigers, monkeys, birds, crocodiles, to name a few, have found mangrove systems to be a practical and safe haven from the dangers of both human and natural threats.

REPOST: Here’s why technology could be a double-edged sword for agriculture

The mechanization of farming has given us high yields that were once impossible to achieve. However, does making agriculture increasingly high-tech always mean better profits for growers? This article from Tech Wire Asia has some interesting thoughts to share:

Singapore’s government wants more innovation in farming, but is it ready? Source: Shutterstock

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the impact of technology and its capability to drive high growth and amazing results in short periods of time, but there’s a big question mark as to whether or not everyone should be jumping in to incorporate the latest and greatest technologies promising the sun and the moon for their bottom lines.

This was especially true when you think about some pretty expensive systems, such as machine learning and automation programs meant to take off the slack on human employees. These are great systems that can have a real monetary cost to them that might not necessarily be beneficial to the company if it results in driving up costs.

Executives and decision makers in companies need to really focus on what tech will work positively for their companies, especially if there isn’t any significant ROI to speak of.

A farm in Singapore drew particular focus on the issue, as the owners battle with whether or not to bring in technologies that could potentially benefit their business. The Jurong Frog Farm, the only place in Singapore that breeds American bullfrogs, is weighing the wisdom of integrating a new recirculating aquaculture system that could help them continue their business should they be moved off their current land when their lease ends.

The problem at the heart of it is that the Singaporean government is implementing a new policy that would weight farmers’ adoption of sustainable and productivity-boosting technologies as a factor in the land-lease bidding process.

Some farms in Norway and overseas are experimenting with indoor farming. Source: Shutterstock

A tender released in August will evaluate bids partly on the basis of these farmers’ ability to harness innovation and sustain production, a challenge for many small, independent farms that may not be able to afford such investments.

According to the farm directors, the aquaculture system – which relies on a single stock of water that is repeatedly treated and recycled – could cost hundreds of thousands of Singaporean dollars as it’ll need to be refitted to suit the needs of a frog farm. Estimates and initial sums indicate that the small farm would not be able to afford such an investment, and it could actually set them back, according to Chelsea Wan who is the director of Jurong Frog Farm.

“Even with government subsidies at implementation, the running cost of such a system might force us to eventually pass on costs to customers, who may simply turn to other farms in the region, which have plenty of land and water,” she said to the Straits Times.

Continue reading HERE.

Do you know where biofuels actually come from?

For many centuries, petroleum has been the world’s most popular source of fuel, whether for heating or for energy generation. However, its unrenewable nature and the undeniable harm that it inflicts to the environment have proven that we needed a better and more sustainable alternative—and this is where biofuel comes in.

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Many researchers have spent years exploring viable sources as a response to the alarming signs of global climate change. When science and technology came together to answer this demand, a list of unexpected and surprising organic materials stepped up and dominated the scene.

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Corn, for instance, currently produces the biggest supply of biofuel in the United States because of its product, ethanol. However, its category as an agricultural product does not make it a top choice for fuel and many debates have pointed out that taking food and putting it into fuel can be problematic.

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Another viable source of biofuel comes from a very popular water-grown plant, algae. Its nature and where it can be found have made it more practical than its land-based counterparts—especially because it grows amazingly fast. Pond scum and seaweed are not scientifically categorized as plants but 50 percent of their weight is composed of fat and can be rendered into oil to finally produce ethanol.

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In the industry of biofuel production, sugar cane has been widely used (second to corn). Usually, it grows in warm countries and its abundance in places like Brazil has made it an essential source of energy, thanks to sugar cane ethanol. Unlike corn and other seed-based fuels, sugar cane utilizes more of the plant.

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There are many other developments happening within the biofuel industry and some of them are showing optimistic signs of success. With the planet’s condition worsening, it is about time for mankind to step up and look for viable solutions to prevent our only home in entire galaxy from deteriorating further.

REPOST: Millennials now biggest produce consumers

Young shoppers are on the rise, and it seems like they are making a significant impact on the fresh produce industry. Millennial consumers, according to an article from The Packer, now eat more fruits and vegetables than any other generation. Read more:

Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions specialist at The Oppenheimer Group, spoke to the Midwest Produce Expo as an “In the flesh” millennial about how her generation of millennial consumers respond to marketing and what that means for fresh produce sellers. | Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider

Millennial consumers are driving growth in alternative retail formats and fresh produce marketers must be ready to respond with authentic and relevant marketing messages.

That’s the advice of Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions specialist at The Oppenheimer Group, speaking Aug. 15 at The Packer’s Midwest Produce Expo.

Perkins said millennial consumers support online shopping more than any other generation, and that will increase the influence of online grocery retail in the years ahead. Growth of grocery e-commerce increased 24% in 2016, and studies reveal between 30% and 60% of millennial shoppers purchase groceries online.

Only 4% of fresh produce is purchased online now, she said, but millennial support for online grocery should raise that number considerably in the next five to 10 years.

In terms of shopping habits, millennial consumers tend to have fewer trips to the store but larger average purchases, Perkins said. While produce is often in the shopping basket of millennial consumers, they are slightly less like to plan produce purchases.

“It is key to connect to consumers outside the store,” she said, noting options such as social media and e-mail marketing.

Millennial consumers are more inclined to purchase produce items on impulse and are more engaged with mobile technology, she said.

At 2.7 servings per day, millennial consumers now eat more fruits and vegetables than any other generation, she said.

While 71% of baby boomers use weekly advertising circulars to help them shop, only 38% of millennial shoppers do, Perkins said.

Perkins said that millennial consumers tend to trust recommendations from friends and family. Suppliers should consider setting up a website for shoppers to review their products, she said. While risky, such user reviews are authentic and resonate with millennial shoppers.

Creating appealing websites also is key when trying to connect with millennial consumers, she said.

Commodities like berries kale, Brussels sprouts, avocados and premium apple varieties are a few of the produce items favored by millennial shoppers, influenced by restaurant trends, food bloggers and other influences. Studying the rise of kale among younger shoppers may yield clues on how to increase consumption of all fruits and vegetables, she said.

The most important part of marketing to millennial consumers is telling a story, Perkins said.

Perkins said she working on a grassroots effort to use the hashtag #thisisfreshproduce on all fresh produce related social media posts to introduce more millennial consumers to fresh produce. Perkins also is working on a website and social media accounts related to the hashtag, she said.


How farming practices have changed over the decades

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Agriculture, considered a primary industry, has changed throughout the course of history and it continues to evolve not only to adapt to our way of life but also to respond to the changes of the natural environment through several innovations. From traditional methods that only allow for a few harvest seasons in a year to technologically enhanced practices that made farming a year-round activity, agriculture has gone a long way.

Just like how technology changed the way people do and experience everyday reality, it has also brought many significant milestones to the farming industry. During the 1940s in the rural America, farmers were only able to feed 19 people in a day. With technology and the advancement of agricultural tools and machines, a single farmer can now produce enough food for 155 people.

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This number is crucial to some regions plagued with drought and famine like Africa. Several factors have contributed to this food shortage problem like climate change, low farm productivity, and overpopulation. However, African social entrepreneurs are starting to look at technology, more specifically digital technology to solve recent issues and predict future challenges, deploying cloud computing, connectivity and open source software to increase yields.

Changes in agricultural education has also risen to the challenge of responding to the signs of time and actively addressing the current problems faced by farmers and the industry as a whole. Unlike the limited courses offered ten years ago, new and better degrees that can benefit agricultural practices are being incorporated to other related studies.

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These changes are expected to improve knowledge and awareness on identification of solutions to several farming problems faced by big and small farmers around the world.

REPOST: How renewable farming can solve problems of climate change and conflicts

Environmental sustainability goes far beyond addressing climate change and putting higher emphasis on renewable power. Conventional agricultural activities, which can significantly degrade soil quality and jeopardize water resources, also require serious modifications. Here’s an article on YOURSTORY for more insights:


Around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. Credit: Shutterstock


Climate change talks are often centred on renewable energy. Nobody talks about making farming renewable. Around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. It emits carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuel required to make chemicals.

Their origin goes back to World War II, when those manufacturing explosives using nitrogen realised that the same could be used to make fertilisers. After the world war, the factories could have shut down but those who had gotten used to profiteering did not want to quit. A whole new science of farming was raised and farmers were told that nitrogen fertilisers are good.

If we give it a thought, our pulses fix nitrogen as well. Their roots have rhizobium bacteria which fix nitrogen and give us good nutrition. But the green revolution did not have pulses. It focused on rice and wheat and the result is for everyone to see. Not only it cheated the earth of its natural nitrogen fixators, shortage of pulses also led to a rise in their prices.

Another means of the emission of greenhouse gases is the industrialised meat industry. In western countries, there are more animals than humans in prison. Cow loves grass, but it is fed soybean. In India, that is how we treat chicken. Estimates suggest that for the production of every single unit of animal protein, we spend 10 times the grain, which is also grown with 10 times more input. In the West, 50 percent food produced is wasted which contributes to methane. So, when you consider all this, half of climate change is due to the type of food system which is dependent on chemical farming and industrial food production.


Continue reading HERE.

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