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Q1 in Review : World Ag Expo and the 2024 Ag Census: Precision & Consolidation are Center Stage

April 15, 2024
1 min

2024 has been busy for the Bonsai Team. There were trade shows, International travel (more on that later), and a wide range of news stories and USDA reports suggesting the future of specialty agriculture is at a cataclysmic moment. Here are some key trends we picked up during the first couple of months of 2024 

  1. Automation: Novelty to a Necessity. 7 out of 10 of the top 10 new product winners at the World Ag Expo focused on the efficiencies that automation will bring to agriculture (Bonsai was also on this list). For comparison, 10 years ago automation represented only 1 out of 10 of the new product winners.  Considering the heightened cost of labor, inputs, and broader downward price pressure on specialty crops, it’s no wonder that technologies aiming to solve grower bottlenecks are getting attention.   According to Western Growers, $100M of 2024 equipment sales are projected for segments like precision weeding, spraying, harvest assist, and thinning. This surge in sales underscores the growing confidence among investors and growers in the viability of automation tailored to specific agricultural needs.
  2. Shifting Ownership Structures: The USDA Ag Census shared what many have already felt over the last couple of years: Traditional family-run farms are making way for larger-scale operations and corporate-owned ventures. While the number of farms in the US has decreased, the average farm size has grown. Considering this shift, more eyes are exploring ways to cut costs, and precision agriculture is likely to be at the forefront of this. 
  3. Manufacturer Consolidation: Farms aren’t the only place where consolidation seems to be taking place. Many equipment manufacturers increased their product breadth through acquisition. Considering the downward commodity price pressure, and drop in equipment sales, this consolidation may allow for more centralized, rapid innovation and standardization of solutions across a broader mix of machinery. 
  4. Enhancement versus Replacement: While growers are warming to technology playing a greater role in maintaining sustainable livelihoods in agriculture, there is still reluctance and caution toward adopting complete automation. During our time at the World Ag Expo and American Pistachio Growers, we spoke with many whose livelihoods are based on equipment - growers, custom harvesters, operators, and leadership of OEM companies. Across the board, people were concerned about automation as a substitute for human involvement. That being said, we found a universal interest in the adoption of automation as a “superpower” for operators. In other words, rather than replacing people, enhancing what operators are capable of, whether that is speed, precision, or endurance. 
  5. Cost Cutting - While many growers seem optimistic about weathering the future of their respective industries, growers are making harder cuts - whether it be taking out less productive acreage, downsizing internally, or being more selective on their input programs. In general, saving money appears to be trumping making money and novel solutions should first and foremost be focused on the immediacy of cost-cutting.