Howard Hagen

Howard Hagen speaks at 2020 Ag Outlook in Riverside, Iowa, March 4.

RIVERSIDE, Iowa — From electric cars to plant-based meat and a declining birthrate, disruptions may lie ahead for agriculture.

That was the message from David Repp, a lawyer with Dickinson Law, at the Hills Bank 2020 Ag Outlook in Riverside, Iowa, March 4.

Disruptions to the agriculture industry may shape farmers’ roles in the world and how the industry is viewed. However, Repp stressed that disruptions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

“We were very diverse back 100 years ago,” Repp said. “With disruptions also come opportunities.”

Repp, who also farms in Dallas County, Iowa, worked with fellow Dickinson Law lawyer, Howard Hagen, to show some of the ways agriculture will be affected by various global trends moving forward. Repp handled some of the more negative aspects of disruption during his talk.

One of his main focuses was plant-based meats. He said some people are estimating the number of cows in the United States will fall by 50% by 2030, while other livestock industries could see similar action. That would impact crop farmers as well, as a lot of their product is used for animal feed.

“We will be making things like hamburger, it’s a lower bar,” Repp said. “You can make a particle of beef and a particle of fat and mix the two together and you have hamburger. That market is huge. Forty to 60% of the cow goes to hamburger.”

Repp also discussed how electric vehicles could drastically affect the markets for ethanol and other biofuels, and overall demand could slip in the future as he said the birth rate in the United States is less than what is needed to replace the population.

Hagen then took over, and provided some optimism to the presentation. He said disruptions aren’t always about doom and gloom.

“George Washington was a disrupter, Eli Whitney was a disrupter, John Deere was a disruptor,” Hagen said. “Sure, some have adverse consequences, but I think most of you today would say you are living a much better life than any of those people.”

Hagen said improvements in technology will help agriculture keep its important role in the world, helping farmers become more efficient in their work. He also addressed the population concern, saying that even if the population declines, there will be people around the world who need to continue eating, making trade even more important.

He suggested farmers need to be willing to adapt when it comes to dealing with disruptions and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

In another presentation at the event, Iowa State University’s Matt Darr discussed the impact of digital agriculture and how data will help farmers improve.

Darr stressed paying attention to any data coming from the planter, making sure not to waste any seed, and understanding what kind of limits on yield a farm may have.

“In agriculture we have dozens of factors that influence our yield potential in a single year,” Darr said. “The influence of any one change is predicated on the overall management level of your production system.”

Kay Stefanik, also of Iowa State, spoke about the importance of nitrogen management and its effect on water quality.

She suggested to the attendees to look at nutrient loss reduction options that might work for their farms, whether that is a saturated buffer, a subsurface drainage bioreactor or installing a nitrate removal wetland to help catch any runoff.

The goal is to reduce soil nutrient loss by 45%, and while researchers have seen progress in no-till practices, Stefanik said she hopes to see more cover crops and wetlands come into the picture.