It’s a consumer’s world
During the last 15 years, farmers have been pressured by environmental regulations, permitting procedures, fluctuating feed and input costs, animal rights activists and big retail chains. This list could go for miles.
However, it’s important to note that these pressures have helped shape where the U.S. food industry is today. Americans have more food options to choose from than ever before. And with the flood of all the food shows on television and the colossal number of recipes available online, more people are branching out and incorporating unique and different products into their daily meals. "It’s a consumer’s economy," says Lowell Catlett, New Mexico State University Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
Consumers want differentiated, tailored products to meet their needs, he explains.
So how will today’s consumers and pressures impact farmers and the food industry in 2025? We’ve asked experts from across the industry for their insight and perspective.
While the corn, soybeans and wheat you grow might not be that much different in 2025 than today, yields and end uses will be. Corn yields of 300 bu. per acre by 2025 are not out of the question, says Fred Below, a University of Illinois plant physiologist. Farmers could see 150 bu. per acre soybean yields and 60 bu. to 80 bu. per acre wheat yields. By 2025, these three seemingly traditional crops could have more than 100 different markets for specific uses. For instance, a farmer will either choose to plant corn for confectioneries, beverages, processed food, detergent, paper, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, livestock feed and so on, explains Roger Elmore, Iowa State University Extension corn agronomist. The same can be said for soybeans and wheat.
Fruits and Vegetables
As consumers have more choices available in the produce aisle, either online or at their local grocery store, farmers, too, will have more choices about what to grow and sell. A team of University of Florida researchers are working to develop flowers, fruits and vegetables designed for the consumer’s pleasure—better tasting, looking and smelling. "More than half the fruits and vegetables are bought by women, but most plant breeders are men," says David Clark, professor of floriculture biotechnology. There is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what plant breeders have been trying to achieve.
"We are working to bridge that gap with consumer-assisted selection," he says.
Livestock and Meat
The meat industry has moved away from butchers and fresh-cut meat. For example, Wal-Mart no longer has a meat counter; everything is prepackaged and ready for cooking. "With the local movement, we are seeing a resurgence in butcher shops," says Jeremy Russell, North American Meat Association. By 2025, Russell expects that someone will find a way to create product excitement and the feeling of a relationship at meat ready counters. Farmers will continue to embrace the awareness surrounding animal well-being. New confinement facilities
will appear to be more open and conducive to animal movement and social interaction.
Fish should be an important part of a healthy diet, according to The Harvard School of Public Health, which recommends that everyone should eat fish twice a week. However, they report that fewer than one in five Americans heed that advice. As consumers work to embrace a more health-conscious diet, fish farms will pop up across the country. During the last two decades, the value of U.S. aquaculture production rose to nearly $1 billion. The U.S. is a major importer of farm-raised seafood products. One scientist at Brooklyn College in New York believes urbanites will become fish farmers. Martin Schreibman has created a tap water circulation system that is designed to run anywhere on a municipal water source. One day on every urban rooftop, there will be a Jacuzzi-sized fish tank capable of producing more than 100 pounds of fish a year, Schreibman says.
One thing consumers leave no room for error on is social responsibility, says Charlie Arnott, Center for Food Integrity (CFI) CEO.
"Consumers say they trust farmers, but they are not sure that what we are doing is farming," Arnott says. "They want to give farmers the benefit of doubt but are no longer sure. Avoiding transparency is no longer an option."
CFI’s research shows that almost one-third of shoppers report that a product’s environmental sustainability impacts their shopping decisions, and slightly more than one-fifth of consider a retailer’s corporate sustainability practices when deciding whether to purchase from them.
Consumers bring a fresh eye to farming and are asking questions.
"Farmers who look at these changes and challenges as an opportunity, instead of a threat, will be successful," Arnott says.
"We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but get ready for a revelation," NMSU’s Catlett says.
- September 2013