Steve Cubbage is a precision ag consultant and farmer from Nevada, Mo.
Steve Cubbage is a precision ag consultant and farmer from Nevada, Mo.

There is now something missing in your regular box of Cheerios and it has possible big implications for where precision agriculture may be headed. If you haven’t been down the breakfast aisle at your local grocery store lately you probably haven’t seen some of the big changes going on in the food industry. Cheerios has gone non-GMO, and there are several other brands and boxes that are doing the same. Non-GMO is the trend, and more and more companies like General Mills know it. There is already serious product segregation going on in the consumer marketplace.

So, what does all this mean for production agriculture and more specifically for precision agriculture? Well in short, it is time for producers and the rest of the food chain to wake up to what is going on. A growing number of consumers say they don’t want GMO’s as a part of their diet. That’s a big problem because, according to the latest numbers, more than 90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified.

It is becoming increasingly evident that producers are losing the trust of their customers. It doesn’t matter to them whether the science is sound, they simply don’t like the sound of “genetically modified.” In their eyes, it’s just not natural. GMO is a three-letter acronym looked at in the same vein as the IRS, the KGB and DDT.

That’s why the Wal-Marts and the General Mills of the world are doing what any sound business would do, they are listening to their customer and giving them what they want. Appeasing the consumers of today—especially the millennials—will not be as easy as just printing the words non-GMO on the side of a cereal box. They want to know how their food was produced and where it came from. Farm to fork is finally here and that’s where precision ag has a huge role to play.

It is time for precision agriculture to get to work. Every field operation will have to be documented digitally. The old pocket notebook just isn’t going to cut it. Fields where non-GMO crops are planted will have to be geo-tagged and all production information will have to be made readily available to the buyers in this new non-GMO marketplace. That means information must be complete, correct and timely—not the chaos that characterizes most precision data today.

Whereas most precision technology that has been deployed to date has been more about solving on-farm production and economic challenges such as yield monitoring and autosteer, this next round will go far beyond the farm. Instantaneous wireless data transfer from the field will become standard fare. Meanwhile, RFID technology or some version of it will likely track the seeds going in the ground and the grain coming out at harvest. Cloud computing and a centralized online account shared between the producer and key players in the food chain will replace USB sticks and the office PC. And on-farm sensors that monitor weather, resource usage and even the quality of the grain in the bin after harvest are all part of the transformation of the farm that will be driven—correct that—demanded by the modern consumer.

The bottom line is that producers who want to remain relevant in the future are going to have to wake up and gear up—soon. If you’re thinking about producing non-GMO crops, then you better be getting your digital ducks in a row. Documentation will be your passport in order to be able to play in this two-tiered marketplace. The big question is—do you have your passport yet?