by Carlo Mondavi
Chief Farming Officer, Co-founder Monarch Tractor
As the sun’s warmth sets on another agricultural year, farmers and communities in the Northern Hemisphere are celebrating the harvest of 2023.
Farming is the world’s most rewarding, humbling, beautiful, important, and often underappreciated job on the planet. When Mother Earth shines brightly upon one’s fields there is a sense of unparalleled euphoria, excitement, and happiness. Inversely, when she challenges us, a sense of survival, panic, despair, and hopelessness sets in. Suffice it to say the world’s most important job, “farming,” is also one of the hardest.
This year I have witnessed both sides of nature’s coin. California experienced iconic rains in the winter, followed by a wet seasonable spring leading to a beautiful, cool, long growing season. For those California farmers who reached harvest unscathed this is a vintage for the books.
On the other side of the Earth, my family’s farm along with many friends in Italy had some rather large challenges. This season started with an abnormally dry winter followed by relentless rains in May and June, which were welcomed, but unusually concentrated and heavy. It rained nearly the annual average in two months. What we call in the USA, an atmospheric river, Italy calls a “bomba di aqua” (water bomb). We were fortunate to navigate these rain events well and came out unscathed.
That said, on July 6, a supercell hailstorm swept through parts of Piemonte starting in Roero then squeezing its way through the Barolo and Barbaresco regions leaving a trail of damage in its path. The crop destruction was very focused and unlike anything I have seen. The intensity and damage resembled what you would see when tornadoes touch down – the aftermath and damage is very isolated with one side of the road untouched, and the other side totally destroyed. Thankfully, the weather after this storm was absolutely beautiful leading to a lovely 2023 vintage.
The Front Lines of Climate Change
As farmers, we are on the front lines of this ever-changing climate, making an already humble lifestyle all the more unpredictable to navigate. Whether it’s hail, frost, wildfires, severe droughts or floods, we as a farming community have been facing these 50-year storms with greater frequency and heightened intensity.
Despite these overwhelming challenges posed by unpredictable weather patterns, the global agricultural sector, as it has for ages, pushes forward.
From a broad strokes perspective here's a recap of the highlights from this year's harvest:
1. Technology Advancements Enhance Efficiency:
2023 is witnessing the continued integration of cutting-edge technologies into agriculture. At Monarch Tractor, we are working at the center of this transformation. Smart farming tools, such as automation via Wingspan Ag Intelligence (WingspanAI) is technology that will allow us to wean away from toxic chemicals as we automate operations like mowing. Autonomy can enable a farm to deploy tractors and have them mow like a Roomba would, which will lead to massive herbicides reductions. Because of this, I believe automation is as big as, if not bigger, than the electrification contribution to climate change. A key element to Monarch’s MK-V vision technology stack is the artificial intelligence (AI) data side, which gives farmers real-time crop monitoring systems so we can know the what, where, when, and how on our farms. With this knowledge, we can react to challenges faster and prevent issues from escalating.
2. Climate-Resilient Farming is Growing:
It's math. If we collectively, as a farming planet, migrate from .5% of organic matter in our soils (which most conventional farms have less than 0.5%) to 5% organic matter across our planet’s farmlands we will offset far greater than 60 gigatons of CO2 and for a moment, have a home for the 60 gigatons we as humanity emit annually. This simple calculation does not account for the significant benefit increased organic matter has on water, air, farm health, biodiversity and ultimately, human health. The good news is this is trending in the right direction for 2023. Let’s hope it keeps gaining traction!
3. Sustainable and Regenerative Practices are Growing:
Global efforts to promote sustainability and help environmental systems restore themselves are growing. Healthy farming practices are also gaining more traction in 2023. Farmers are embracing regenerative farming practices such as reduced tillage techniques to improve soil health and minimize our impact on the farm. Agroforestry systems, combining tree planting with crop rotation, have gained popularity as a means to sequester carbon and promote biodiversity.
4. Challenges Remain:
While celebrating the successes of 2023's harvest, it's important to acknowledge the persistent challenges. Our planet’s biodiversity is in decline with insects disappearing at an alarming rate with studies. One study out of Germany reports a more than 76% decline of flying insects in protected areas. Protected areas would normally provide a safe place away from development for nature to thrive, not suffer. Not only is this decline alarming in its own right, but insects support the food chain and we’re seeing the fallout happening in real time. Another report cites a 50% drop of Europe’s bird population since 1980, roughly the same time period. While this may feel like a snapshot, it’s indicative of global trends.
These biodiversity declines are on our shoulders as farmers and consumers to address, so we must change how we farm if we want these troubling numbers to reverse and change for the better. Severe weather continues to be a challenge and the pressure for farmers to adapt and change quickly is high. That said, access to resources, such as land, water, subsidies, and credit remains a hurdle for many small-scale farmers. Additionally, climate fluctuations and disasters continue to impact farmers' livelihoods, highlighting the need for robust risk management strategies.
Globally speaking, the 2023 harvest has been a year marked by resilience, innovation, and collaboration within the agricultural sector. I believe through technological advancements like Monarch Tractor, regenerative practices, increased soil health, and a renewed focus on localized food systems, that we as a community will continue to rise to these challenges posed by a rapidly changing world.
Monarch is now on a mission defined by speed and scale. We are working with farmers first, governments, policy makers, communities, fellow tractor companies, and technologists to speed up our impact to make it more and more accessible.
My wishes to you are that you have a beautiful harvest season ahead and that our report for 2024 continues to drive impact and hope for our planet, us as humanity, and the beautiful biodiversity that is sacred to its balances. I believe we will get this right.
Happy harvest for 2023 and for years to come everyone!