Market drivers, which have been fairly stable over the past five years, are increasingly in flux as Iowa farmers plant their 2014 corn and soybean crops, according to Dave Miller, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) director of re­­search and commodity services.

After several years when crop prices were strongly influenced by the growth of biofuels and rapid gains in exports to China, market dynamics are shifting, and right now it’s difficult to determine which factors will exert the greatest influence on prices and profitability over the next three to five years, Miller said. Because of that, farmers need to build their knowledge base and their ability to adjust to a more dynamic and volatile environment, he said.

"Things like big data, new production technologies and rapidly changing consumer buying patterns could end up having a big influence in the coming years," Miller said. "It will probably be the case where we don’t have one or two dominant market drivers, but combinations of factors that can influence big changes."

The 2014 IFBF Economic Summit, titled "Finding the Next Set of Market Drivers for Agriculture," will focus on many of those newer drivers to help farmers prepare for the risks and opportunities in the coming three to five years, Miller said. "We want to help farmers become better informed and better prepared for a marketplace that could be very different," he said.

The third annual IFBF Econ­omic Summit will be held July 21 and 22 at the Iowa State Center at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. The 2014 summit, which will be moderated by Mike Pearson public television’s "Market to Market," is patterned after the popular summits from 2012 and 2013.

The line-up of presenters at the economic summit has been chosen to provide farmers an expansive look at the potential economic drivers in the next five-year period, Miller said.

One of those drivers will likely be the whole area of big data, an already very hot topic in agricultural circles. "We hear a lot of chatter about big data now, but what it really comes down to is using more precise and scientific data sets to make better informed management and marketing decisions," Miller said. "It really could fundamentally change the decision process and structure of many Iowa farms."

Several speakers at the summit, including Matt Darr from Iowa State University, will look at how farmers can manage and utilize big data now and in the future.

High-tech machines

The summit will also look at high-tech machines, such as drones, and how they may drive change in agriculture. While many farmers are only now experimenting with drones, "it’s clear they could become game changers in agriculture," Miller said.

Today, experts expect farmers to use drones to scout crops and perhaps precisely apply pesticides, Miller said. "But those forecasts may not be broad enough, especially if you can combine drones with remote sensors and other technologies."

The line-up at the summit includes nationally-known drone expert Kevin Price, formerly at Kansas State University and now with RoboFlight.

A third potential driver is changing consumer demands in both the domestic and export markets. "There is really a lot of un­certainty about this area now and I think it’s important to take a good look at the issues," Miller said.

Some technologies like biotechnology and certain animal-care practices have come under fire from a very vocal, but sometimes small, segment of consumers, Miller noted. But because those activists have made inroads with food processors, retailers and restaurant chains, they could end up having big effects on how farmers raise crops and livestock in the future, he said.

On the international side, a good example of changing drivers has been China’s refusal to accept corn with insect-resistance technology approved in the United States.

"This case is interesting be­­cause China was not a big corn importer when the trait was approved in this country, but now they are," he said.

The key for farmers in this new and more dynamic environment is to gather information and become better informed on risks and potential opportunities brought on by changing market drivers, Miller said.

"We designed the 2014 IFBF Economic Summit as a vehicle to help farmers successfully prepare for what could be a very different economic environment," he said.

Here's an agenda of scheduled speakers and information on registration and lodging. The cost of the summit is $50 for Iowa Farm Bureau members and $150 for non-members.