What’s the future of farming in Iowa? Big data helps provide answers

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 10:32 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Mitchell Hora knows something about tradition; he’s a seventh-generation farmer in Washington, County. However, he also knows something about innovation, too.

“My company helps farmers implement regenerative ag systems,” said Hora, founder of Continnum Ag. Hora added his business uses big data and artificial intelligence to move farmers to more sustainable practices.

“One of the data points that I look at when talking about conservation is the census numbers from the previous census that was collected in 2017,” said Hora. “And at that time, there was about 4% of farms in the country using cover crops.”

The census Hora is talking about is the 2022 Census of Agriculture, carried out every five years.

Greg Thessen, Regional Director for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) said, “[The census] matters to everyone because everyone eats food. And so it provides a way to measure what’s going on in agriculture.”

The census doesn’t just track what practices farmers are using, like if they utilize cover crops or not. It also looks at demographics.

“Where’s the next generation of farmers coming from? So in 2017, the last time the census was completed, the average age was about just over 57,” said Thessen.

All of the numbers illustrate what’s going on in the economy so leaders can spot trouble, like the aging farmer population, and come up with solutions.

“There is a program to get new farmers in agriculture...and they utilize information from the census to help administer that program,” said Thessen.

As for Hora, with his focus on the future of farming and conservation, he plans on using the numbers as a guide to see how much work lies ahead.

“I’m really interested to see how those numbers change to see, as we are pushing conservation initiatives at a national and global scale, what does a survey say? Are we making progress? And at what pace?” said Hora.

Farmers’ responses to the census are due in February. The data will be published in the spring of 2024.