Over the course of recorded history a mere 25-year span is little more than a microscopic dot on a timeline. A quarter century compared to millennia seems insignificant.
But a lot can happen in a quarter of a century. Civilizations have changed; world wars have been fought; inventions have revolutionized society.
I was reminded of how big an impact 25 years can make on an industry while compiling stories for a special report in this issue on the Texas Plant Protection Association’s 25th annual conference, coming up in December.
Agriculture is different today than it was in 1990, when the association held its first meeting. A lot of what farmers use routinely today were either just coming on line back then or were not commercially available.
Precision agriculture, for instance, was in its infancy. Folks had been working on ways to incorporate “site-specific” production techniques into managing crops, but the practices were far from being routinely available. And many were cost-prohibitive to individual farmers.
Today, a row-crop producer likely would have to request that GPS equipment be removed from harvest equipment, sprayers or planters if he, for one reason or another, doesn’t want it.
In 1990, transgenic varieties were being tested but widespread use was still years away. Now, as with GPS technology, it’s easier to find genetically modified seed than it is to buy what we now call “conventional” but is really less conventional than the transgenics.
In 1990, cotton farmers listed the boll weevil as one of the most economically destructive pests they dealt with. Now, except for the Lower Rio Grande Valley, boll weevils are no longer a threat, and farmers report they make anywhere from 100 to 300 more pounds of cotton per acre than they did before the boll weevil eradication program eliminated the pest.
Agricultural researchers are making progress on limiting damage from cotton root rot and aflatoxin contamination in corn. Herbicide-resistant weeds have emerged as a major problem for row crop farmers.
Industry has consolidated but continues to develop new products that improve farm efficiency.
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Farmers and ranchers have endured too many drought years over the past 25 years and farmers who irrigate have noted significant decreases in water availability. Heat, cold, flood and hail have taken tolls on crops, but those rare years when temperatures, moisture and the price of cotton in China all lined up to offer a good profit helped farmers decide to keep on trying.
Markets have risen and fallen on reports of poor crops in Russia and bin busters in Australia. Increased emphasis on renewable energy, especially ethanol and biodiesel, contributed to rising grain prices—hailed by crop producers and cursed by livestock operators.
It’s been 25 years of changing farm policy, increased reliance on crop insurance and fewer legislators who have significant ties to rural America.
And through it all, TPPA has addressed the most pertinent issues, the newest technology, the changing landscape of Texas agriculture. With a three-tiered approach—industry, research and Extension—the organization takes a wide-angle view of those issues and provides a forum for education, discussion, and dissemination.
Twenty five years is perhaps a miniscule point in history, but it’s an important milestone for an organization that continues to evaluate and respond to the needs of Texas agriculture.