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A Look into the Future

November 27, 2013
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor
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Four experts share their thoughts on forthcoming farm trends

If you peered into agriculture’s crystal ball, what would you see? In the decades to come, can we expect to see robots crisscrossing fields and zapping weeds with lasers? Or will our food be comprised of genetic-specific vitamins? Will farmers and ranchers have field and pasture activity live-streamed to their phones or offices for continuous monitoring? Science and technology evolve quickly, giving realm to "anything’s possible." Predicting the future definitely isn’t easy, but it can be fun. Four experts offer their perspectives on how different aspects of ag will shape up by 2025.


Catlett Screenshot

Lowell Catlett
New Mexico State University ag economist

Cattle have traditionally been grouped, treated and marketed as a herd. In the future, this industry will be more focused on the individual characteristics of cattle.

Farmers and ranchers will be able to raise animals of similar characteristics. Farmers will grow specific animals and plants for specific customers.

Smartphones will dramatically change medical diagnostics. They are already being outfitted with molecular lenses so that you can do blood work or other medical tests. Technologies such as this will be used extensively in veterinary medicine. Soon, you might be able to snap a picture of your cow’s eye and diagnose its condition. This will change animal health and the livestock industry in ways that we can only dream about.

Other changes might come from cloud-sourcing data. Ranchers throughout a region could monitor the health of their herds through technologies such as ubiquitous computing—an advanced concept that feeds constant data through multiple devices. Then, ranchers could route the data
to a central source, which would make it possible to predict the outbreak of infectious diseases. Ranchers might even be paid for that information.

Kottemeyer

Rich Kottmeyer
Accenture senior executive and global leader of agriculture and development

To look at agriculture in 2025, you have to think about what the world will look like, since agriculture is fundamentally a global business. We are in the process of transitioning from a regional agricultural consumption model to a global model.

The middle class is growing and for the first time, many have choices in what they eat and the variety available. As a result, agriculture is shifting away from crop commoditization and moving toward more of a value-added system.

Farmers also have choices. You can grow a commodity, which will earn you a commodity price. That is good today, but it might not be tomorrow. Or you can be a little bit more of a value-added player, without sacrificing basic risk management. For example, there are different soybean types and varieties, but we don’t sell them that way. If you segment your product, you can sell it differently and have greater margin potential.

These two management options (large, consolidated and efficient or small, value-added and contract-tied) can both flourish—even on the same farm.

Christophe Pelletier

Christophe Pelletier
Ag futurist and author of "Future Harvests" and "We Will Reap What We Sow"

In the future, I see two distinct consumer groups. One is in the emerging countries, particularly China. As people enter the middle class, they change their diets. They used to have mainly rice, and now they want meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. When a country of more than 1.5 billion people consumes more meat, it translates to huge volumes. China’s increased demand for more protein will change the entire food scape—not only in animal production, but also the feedstocks required to raise them.

The second group is the developed countries. In these countries, people eat more food than they need and are starting to fear the related health effects.

These individuals worry about food safety and are uncertain about how their food is produced. They want to have confidence in the food system and to know that what they eat will not harm them.

I see two big trends evolving—food safety and transparency. We will continue to see people ask more questions about their food, including how it is raised, who was involved, production method and so on. This is a challenge, but also a great opportunity.

Technology will be key. Farmers will collect more data about their farms through satellites, drones and sensors. New technologies will help producers better control food quality. The data will be related to production, as well as the environment.

This level of data access will only help farmers be more sustainable, environmentally responsible and transparent. Farmers will be better producers while also answering consumers’ concerns.

We know in the future we’ll have more mouths to feed—around 9 billion by 2050. Essentially, we can cover the nutritional needs of 9 billion people today if they eat just what they need—around 1,800 calories per day. But if they all have the Western diet, which is about 3,500 calories per day, we are talking about the needs of 17.5 billion people. That changes the picture.

Shearer

Scott Shearer
Ohio State University chair of Food, Agriculture & Biological Engineering

When I look at plant genetics today, we are really just scratching the surface of yield potential. Recently, we’ve seen partnerships and mergers between genetic and machinery companies.

Genetics companies have come to the realization that they need to have a little more control of how the seed is handled and planted to enable it to reach more of its potential. The marriage between genetics and machinery companies will likely have a profound impact on plant productivity levels.

This is a mutually beneficial relationship, and in the end, the winner will more than likely be the producer and hopefully the consumer.

Historically, U.S. farmers and ranchers have been intent in controlling all aspects of their farm, from maintenance to marketing. I respect that as they are talented businesspeople. However, as we look to the future with some of the upcoming technologies, growing complexity and genetic potential, it will be increasingly important for farmers to relinquish some of their control.

At the end of the day, producers have a limited amount of time, and they have certain skill sets. I think farmers will be better served by turning over some of their production decisions to people who have unique expertise that complements their operation. 

Watch these experts and learn more about the future of farming at www.FarmOfTheFuture.net.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - December 2013
RELATED TOPICS: Farming 2025

 
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