“Get ready for a world of real-time, autonomous, spatial intelligence farming!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Way back in 2005, I wrote a blog post that summarized much of what I had been talking about in the previous year as the key trends defining the future of agriculture. Little did I know that search engines would rocket the post to the top of the list for many searches related to the topic and that this would become the most heavily trafficked page on my Web site in the years to come!
The result? I’ve spoken at dozens of agricultural and farming conferences and leadership events since – and get into the topic so much that my greatest ever compliment came from one audience member who asked me how long I’ve been a farmer! And so “on this day” in 2018, I found myself as the opening keynote speaker for the DTN Agriculture conference, with about 500 farmers in the room. I took them on a long voyage through the many scientific, demographic, technological, and global economic trends which would shape their future for years to come.
One of the trends I covered is the acceleration of two key technologies – autonomous vehicle technology and precision agriculture, and what happens when the next generation of kids takes over the family farm. The future? We’re rapidly moving to a world in which we’ll farm 24 hours a day, rather than just when the sun is up – and it’s pretty likely that the process will be managed by a young farmer who grew up playing Farmville, as I describe right here:
Fast trends? Watch this – the opening video they used to usher me on stage!
Farmers are some of the most innovative people I know, an issue that I covered on stage: when it comes to optimism and pessimism, I have long explained that there are two types of farmers:
I love this topic – so much so that in advance of the event, the pre-event video I filmed for them had me running around to various farms – and hanging out with some cows. Give it a watch – it’s also full of some powerful insight into just how innovative this industry is:
My original 2005 trends post? It’s below.
What’s up with ag? Some major trends:
- Massive growth in food demand: The UK Food and Agriculture Association estimates that the world population will increase 47%, to 8.9 billion, by 2050. That’s a potentially huge food marketplace. That fact, more than anything, spells the reality that the agricultural industry is full of potential opportunities!
- A continuing ramp-up in efficiency: Simple fact: global agriculture must double in the next 30 years to sustain this type of population growth. Add this reality check: there is little new arable land in the world. The result is that existing producers will have to continue to focus on smarter, better, more efficient growth in order to meet demand.
- Hyper-science: One of the realities of the infinite idea loop in which we now find ourselves is this: while there are 19 million known chemical substances today, the number is constantly doubling every 13 years… with some 80 million by 2025, and 5 billion by 2100. Science is evolving at a furious pace, and with science at the root of agriculture, we will continue to see constant, relentless new methods of improving crop and livestock yield.
- Innovation defines success: Growers that focus on innovation as a core value will find success; their innovation will focus on the triple-feature need for growth, efficiency, and ingestion of new science. It will be by adopting new methodologies, products, partnerships, and ideas that they will learn to thrive.
- Retail and packaging innovation drive agricultural decisions: Do this: stare at a banana. Did you know that Chiquita banana has come up with a special membrane that doubles the shelf-life of the product, doing this regulating the flow of gases through the packaging? Take a look at Naturepops: each lollipop is wrapped in the fully bio-degradable film made from plant matter, and the bags they come in are made from recycled paper, water-based ink, and polylactic acid made from cornstarch. There’s a huge amount of innovation happening with packaging companies and on the store shelf, and all of these trends have a big impact on agriculture.
- Intelligent packaging moves front and center: Innovation with packaging will take an even bigger leap in years to come, and will involve hyperconnectivity, a trend that will be driven by food safety, traceability, country of origin, and nutrition labeling needs. Our lives are soon to be transformed by packaging that can “connect” to the global data grid that surrounds us, and its’ role will have been transformed from being that of a “container of product” to an intelligent technology that will help us with use of the product, or which will help us address safety and traceability issues.
- The energy opportunity: Agriculture is set to play a huge role as we wean ourselves away from our dependence on oil and natural gas. The US Department of Energy plans to see alternative fuels provide 5% of the nation’s energy by 2020, up from 1% today. And it is expected that there will be $1.2 billion in new income for farmers and rural landowners by getting involved with new energy sources such as wind power. Europe plans to have a market that involves at least 20% usage of bio-fuels by 2020, and Feed & Grain estimates that liquid fuels from agricultural feed could replace 25% to 30% of US petroleum imports by that time.
- Convenience and health take center stage: We will continue to see rapid change in consumer taste and expectations as people come to place more emphasis or do their best with the little time that they have. For example, it is expected that fresh-cut snacks grew from an $8.8 billion market in 2003 to $10.5 billion by 2004, according to the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association, as part of a trend in which produce and fruit continue to compete with traditional snacks. Expect such unique trends to grow both in terms of number and rapidity.
- Direct consumer-producer relationships blossom: As this technology evolves and as people become more concerned about the safety of what they eat, a natural result is a frenetic rate of growth in direct relationships between growers and consumers.
- Generational transformation: perhaps the biggest trend is that we are about to witness a sea-change in the rate by which new ideas in the world of agriculture are accepted, as a new generation of technology-weaned, innovative younger people take over the family farm.
- Partnership defines success: If there is one trend I emphasize in every industry I’m involved with, it is that no one individual or organization can know everything there is to know. As I indicated in my I found the future in manure article, this trend is also becoming prevalent in agriculture. We will continue to see an increasing number of partnerships between growers and advisers, suppliers, buyers, retailers, and just about everyone else so that they learn to deal with the massive complexities that emerge from rapid change and innovation.
Wait — that’s 11 trends! And that’s indicative of just how rapidly this industry is set to be transformed……
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