Like any other industry, farming and agriculture are faced with different challenges that affect both productivity and efficiency. What’s more concerning about it is that many of these obstacles are unknown or misunderstood by the public.

Fortunately, these problems may be addressed by a combination of tried-and-tested strategies, as well as modern technologies and equipment. Here’s a look at the most pressing concerns in farming and how they can possibly be addressed.

1. Climate Change and Environmental Factors

Apart from environmental and health concerns that hound their profession—like potential damage caused by fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the water pollution caused by raising livestock— farmers also have to contend with climate change and other external factors that affect productivity. These include extreme weather phenomena, pests, parasites, crop blights, poor soil quality, and challenging topography.

Various technological advancements such as ground and atmosphere sensors can help farmers cope better with these problems. Among other functions, these sensors can measure ambient temperature and determine whether the soil gets enough water and sufficient nutrients. Using spectral imagery for agriculture can also help farmers detect water stress and overall plant health. Plant counting is also a valuable function of spectral imagery, helping farmers maximize use of their land. Providers of such services—a good example of which is California-based company Ceres Imaging—fly planes and employ unique image processing techniques to reveal these valuable agricultural data.

The information data gathered using all these different methods and equipment can aid farmers in developing and adjusting their strategies and programs in order to increase yield and minimize losses.

2. Growing Demand for Food

Population growth is one of the biggest challenges that the agricultural industry has to deal with, because everybody needs food to survive. With an estimated 9 to 10 billion people that need to be fed by 2050, it’s not only a matter of producing more food but also making healthier food more accessible and affordable for the masses.

Solving these issues needs both structural reforms to support smaller, poorer farmers; developing and encouraging more sustainable methods of farming; and training farmers to apply agroecological principles in managing their crops and livestock. Local and hyper-local food economies are also prime targets for anti-hunger and poverty programs, since these communities know their needs better than outsiders and therefore better understand what still needs to be done.

3. Dwindling Natural Resources

The availability and cost of arable land, as well as the global water crisis also heavily impact agricultural productivity. In fact, one of the reasons we are now faced with this predicament is that agricultural development has historically focused on increasing productivity rather than resource management.

Sustainable intensification solutions—that is, methods that increase yields without increasing acreage— include improving genetics of both crops and livestock, minimum- or zero-tillage farming, dietary modifications of livestock, and using nitrification inhibitors on suitable soil types. Programs such as the USDA Limited Resource Farmer and Rancher may also help smaller players to develop and maintain economic viability, even with limited resources, by providing them with information and skills training relevant to their needs.

4. Technology and Human Capital

Despite the increasing demand for food, there are fewer and fewer Americans pursuing farming as their occupation. In fact, the mean age of farmers in the country continues to rise, with 40% of farmers aged 55 years old or older. At the same time, older farmers and those in rural communities are more hesitant to use modern equipment and technologies, especially since many of them have been trained in more traditional methods. Meanwhile, younger people, who may possess better technical skills and knowledge, are less likely to seek out careers in agriculture.

Convincing rural farming communities to integrate these new technologies into their processes may also be more difficult than in urban areas. This creates a shortage of farmers that are both physically able and well-versed in modern farming techniques and equipment. This problem is mostly a communications issue. Relevant agencies should highlight the advantages of using these new methods, and at the same time provide initial financial support for training and equipment investment.

Those of us who work outside farming may find these challenges irrelevant. However, we are all stakeholders in the agricultural industry, and the better we understand these struggles, the better we can help address these issues.

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