AGRIMARKETING IN AN AGE OF HOTWIRED PHOTOSYNTHESIS

The Corn Belt is the Corn Belt for a reason: the “I states” and neighboring regions are historically home to some of the most bountiful corn crops on the planet. The Midwestern U.S. has the right soil, temperature and moisture that enable farmers to raise increasingly massive crops each year. The Midwest, as a result, is also the epicenter of North American agrimarketing.

 

Though there’s major need for corn grain in many sectors, there’s also a lot of it in the world, and the lingering surplus is making it difficult for corn market prices to rise to levels that adequately reward corn farmers for their hard work. Farmers have simply gotten so good at producing a lot of corn that some market-watchers say it’s starting to turn around and bite them.

 

But what if we could raise other crops — say, vegetables, fruit or other food or fiber staples that are in higher demand in local markets around the country — with the same efficiency and at similar yield levels in the Midwest as corn? Right now, it’s not economically feasible — let alone possible — to raise some crops in Iowa, for example, where hot, muggy summers are counterbalanced by winter temperatures that plunge to -30 degrees.

 

However, research on photosynthesis underway at universities and government laboratories could hold the key to a more diverse cropping mix that avoids future overproduction of a single commodity.

 

Photosynthesis is the process through which plants turn sunlight into the building blocks for plant materials. Every green plant utilizes the process that turns sunlight and water into sugars that propel them through each vegetative and reproductive growth stage. Farmers know these stages well, as they represent key plant benchmarks throughout the growing season. But, there’s one big problem with photosynthesis: It’s incredibly inefficient. Researchers have found that plants can only convert up to 4.5% of sunlight to biomass. Today, sunlight is considered a limitless power source, so inefficiency like this is not a big deal, but it leaves a lot of room for improvement.

 

So, that’s what researchers are doing: Working to improve the process by taking a high-tech approach to boosting the efficiency of photosynthesis. Though today’s advanced solar panels only convert 15-20%  of available sunlight to electricity, that’s light-years ahead of photosynthesis’ output. The proposed answer: Take what the scientific community is learning about energy conversion in the solar power sector and apply it to plants. “Mesh” plant tissues with synthetic protons and electrons to “supercharge” photosynthesis by enabling plants to capture a higher percentage of the light that hits each leaf.

 

This sort of plant “meshing” is likely decades away from commercial viability. But such technology could change the very basis for agriculture, the backbone of the rural economy in much of the U.S., an economy that today is hurting badly in many regions. And, it could serve to balance what’s produced with what global consumers demand, whether as feedstocks for livestock or end products themselves. Could there be quarter-sections of onions, tomatoes and even grapes and almonds in areas that today are blanketed in corn and soybeans during the growing season? That’s a plausible reality if this technology becomes commercially available to farmers.

 

While the research looks to open a lot of doors for ag producers, it also creates a lot of challenges for marketers working in what could be a widely diversified marketplace. The outcomes would create the need for the marketing sector to ramp up content marketing and thought leadership efforts to help move the ag industry into this new era.

 

With so many more cropping options, farmers will be faced with a lot more decisions than today, when standard row crop rotations keep many decisions fairly simple. This is where agrimarketers will start to feel the pressure from a content marketing standpoint. The diversification would put a premium on good information and content from agriculture companies and their marketers as a service to their customers. Their customers will likely demand that information from input providers and other ag companies.

 

Marketers’ storytelling abilities will be stretched in other areas, too. Much like there’s high demand for content focusing on farm succession planning today, many farmers and farm families transitioning to a more diverse crop mix will require a lot of guidance to make it happen. Companies poised with the kind of thought leadership and content marketing surrounding these topics will have a leg up on the competition when it comes to establishing strong relationships with their customers.

 

Agriculture is changing rapidly, and the convergence of new technology and consumer demand may cause that change to start happening at a much quicker rate in the future. The agriculture companies who can stay ahead of the rate of change and be ready to provide both the right products and content expertise to their customers will be the ones who drive the change to a more diverse array of higher-value crops in today’s corn and soybean country.

Contact Us