Economic Forecast: Technology driving Delaware’s agriculture

EdKeethumb
Ed Kee

We are fortunate in Delaware to have a strong and vibrant agricultural sector, which has an estimated $8 billion economic impact. Agriculture is so intertwined with other sectors of our economy that it is difficult to say where one segment ends and another begins.

One of the most important trends in agriculture over the years has been the increasing use of technology in farming. Wireless access, broadband, portable electronics, GPS devices, monitors and high-tech equipment have all contributed to a collective transformation of the industry.

GPS-enabled tractors with auto-steer functions have expanded the growth of precision agriculture, allowing farmers to pinpoint exactly where they want to cultivate, plant, fertilize or harvest. From both the field and the kitchen table, farmers can pull up market prices on their iPhones and make planting or harvesting decisions with the latest information, rather than relying on printed information from several states away. They can monitor the conditions of their poultry flocks and make instant adjustments to temperature, feed or water accordingly.

Both veteran farmers, with decades of experience, and our new generation of emerging farmers have embraced these tools with open arms, leading to increased yields and profits all around.

Over the past two decades, Delaware also has seen a strong interest, in both the public and private sectors, in preserving farmland. Today, the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation has permanently preserved more than 116,000 acres of farmland on 800 farms—more than a fifth of all our state’s agricultural land. We are fortunate that this powerful investment in our future has received strong bipartisan support from all levels of government in Delaware.

One other trend worthy of note is the increasing interest in locally produced agricultural products, especially fresh produce. Many of us want to buy local goods because they help support our friends and neighbors who grow them. Delaware has an abundance of delicious fresh produce, from watermelon to sweet corn, sold at grocery stores, farmers’ markets and farm stands around our state. Farmers’ markets alone have seen sales double over the past five years to a
$2.6 million record season in 2014.

Moving into 2015, I foresee that our poultry industry will continue to grow and expand. As the backbone of our state’s agricultural economy—responsible for 13,000 jobs—it is easy for some to take poultry for granted and overlook the critical roles that our growers, integrators and allied industries play in Delaware business. Virtually all of the corn and soybeans grown in Delaware go toward feeding the chickens raised here, and many successful enterprises have come to support the poultry industry, from construction companies to equipment suppliers. We are seeing continued growth and investment by our growers
and companies, with new chicken houses needed to meet consumer demand,
and that will only continue.

Our economy rests on the shoulders of the people who came before us. Delaware’s long agricultural heritage has led to unparalleled prosperity and growth. Because of the hard work, dedication and commitment of our farmers today, I am fully confident that the strength of our industry will continue for decades more.

(Ed Kee is Delaware’s secretary of agriculture. He previously served for many years as an agricultural extension agent with the University of Delaware and was director of agriculture for Hanover Foods.)

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