As a Product Manager, I regularly talk with large conventional row crop operations. But recently I had the opportunity to directly address a large group of organic bean growers in Michigan. Many more growers in the process of transitioning into organics were also in the audience – farmers are increasingly considering adopting organic farming practices as a way to protect margins in the face of low commodity crop prices and growing public demand for organics.
There is an obvious divide between organic and conventional farming, but the reality is that both groups face similar challenges in scaling their operations while meeting market and regulatory demands:
Operational complexity as a barrier to growth – Yes, organic farmers are likely to spend more time scouting each of their fields and managing weeds and pests than their conventional counterparts, but both groups need to consider the same operational challenges when considering the possibility of expanding: Should I plant more or fewer crops to be more profitable? Should I buy or lease land? How do I effectively manage a larger teams? Do we need more machinery, or can we do with the equipment we have?
Scaling professionally – Conventional or organic, all farmers face the challenge of having to productively and efficiently manage more acres if they want to grow profitably. Managing increasingly larger operations requires professional tools to remotely monitor field health, to communicate with larger and more distributed team, and to make smarter operational and agronomic decisions for each newly planted field.
Access to real-time information as a competitive advantage – All farmers are facing increasing tracking requirements. Complying with stricter environmental regulations or meeting end-users’ demands to know where their food comes from means farmers need to track and report activities down to the field level – and do so in real-time to avoid long hours of manual data input. Clear and easily shareable records can also have an impact in negotiations with third parties such as landowners, crop insurance agents, and certification agencies (critical for organic farms) that in the longer term will translate into sustainable advantages.
Today we signed our first 100% organic operation. We are excited to work with both organic and conventional growers to help them realize operational efficiencies and to scale their businesses to meet today’s, and tomorrow’s, market demands.