Following a decade with the introduction of societal shifters like the smart phone and rapid expansion of social media, 2020 could be the starting block for the fastest technological race in agricultural history. Combining big data with cutting edge science, artificial intelligence and cloud connected technology has the potential revolutionize farming in ways only dreamed up in movies. We asked three farm futurists for their predictions for the next decade.
Regardless of what farmers want, they can be assured consumer pressure will continue in the next decade.
“If we embrace it, I don't see it as a bad thing,” says Lowell Catlett, futurist, economist and former dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University. “They're just differentiated segmented markets and I'd rather have a differentiated segmented marketplace than one big mass market because that's where the profit is.”
“Consumers are going to put increased pressure on the industry over their carbon footprint, their water footprint, and their methane footprint,” says Jack Uldrich, agricultural futurist. “It's just going to affect farmers in a wide variety of ways and that might be legislation, regulation, or consumers who say they’ll support farmer B over farmer A who is more in line with their values.”
We broke the mega trends down to five key categories. Here are the mega trends for consumer demands.
Food Company/Farm Partnerships
Some of that pressure will come from food companies as they seek to develop more individual farm partnerships that match their business values. From General Mills to Perdue Farms, major food companies are touting and working closer with their farm partners hoping to capitalize on consumer preferences and differentiating their products in an otherwise crowded food market.
“The consumer themselves are going to begin leveraging this data to say I want to buy locally grown produce or meat that came from an operation within 60 or 100 miles,” says Uldrich.
Quick service restaurant chain Chipolte finished the decade announcing it plans to invest in young farmers by offering 3-year contracts to help fill its supply chain with likeminded producers.
If you’ve ever tried to host a dinner party of any size, no doubt there were a myriad of dietary demands. Thanks to a plethora of choice, eating today has become a designer buffet rather than a one plate, take it or leave option. From Keto, to Mediterranean, to gluten free, low carb or vegetarian the Amercian diet is an increasingly diverse wasteland of preferences.
“At one point it seemed everybody was on the gluten free diet and then you find out that one half of 1% of the population has any form of celiac disease,” says Catlett.
“Some people will always go for the cheapest, most affordable food and that's what they have to do but I like seeing people supporting ag in different ways and so to me that's a really exciting possibility for ag in the next decade,” says Uldrich.
Plant Protein Revolution
The end of the decade was marked with a protein revolution as lab grown and plant based proteins began pushing their way into the meat case. The global plant protein market, estimated anywhere from $8 billion to 18.5 billion in 2019, is forecast to climb above $40 billion by 2025.
“I don't think that side of the industry expected the whole Beyond Meat trend to explode and accelerate as quickly as it did,” says Jim Carroll, agricultural futurist. “That's why the industry has to be prepared for probably a lot more volatility.”
Catlett says like other food trends, he expects plant proteins to carve out a two or three percent share.
“I think there's going to be enough people that want plant based alternative proteins that it'll be a market, but I think it'll be like organic or gluten free,” says Catlett. “It'll be a component of the industry but not a major portion of it.”
If that’s a global share, it’s still a significant amount of money and one the ag industry should recognize as potential disruptors. Even some of agriculture’s biggest companies, Cargill, ADM, and DuPont are targeting the plant protein market for growth and innovation.
“The advances in plant-based protein are going to continue to get better,” says Uldrich. “They are on the verge of making animal free milk and vegan cheese and while those products won’t necessarily appeal to 100% of consumers they will appeal to a number of people.”
Social Media Mandates
Agriculture can expect keyboard warriors and social media posse’s to ride hard through the next decade. Be it under cover videos, fanatical posts by pseudo scientists or even viral shares from a perfect day on the farm, the social scene is going to drive attention, both positively and negatively in the years ahead.
“It’s going to accelerate and the unfortunate thing is a lot of that is going to be based on valid concerns and a lot of that is going to be driven by stupid stuff,” says Carroll. “I think sadly the impact of our social media driven world is a lot of unintelligent people can make unintelligent decisions based upon unintelligent information.”
While the comments will mostly certainly continue to fly, some agriculturalists are finding ways to land real perspective from the farm in the hands of interested people.
“I met a young farmer a couple of months ago that said his YouTube videos now make as much as my dairy operation,” says Catlett. “He’s showing people how he milks cows, how he disposes of the manure and everything in a day in the life of a dairy farmer and being paid to do it.”
Meet our Experts
Dr. Lowell Catlett, Ph.D. is a former Regents Professor in Agricultural Economics and the Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University. He retired in 2015 and spends time speaking about the future from an agricultural perspective.
Jack Uldrich is a popular author and speaker around the country. One of his core presentation focuses on the future of farming, deciphering trends and challenging his audiences to survive and thrive in an era of unparalleled change. In 2012, he published a book on the trends to watch in 2020.
For the past 25 years Jim Carroll has spent his time focusing on the future from a global stage. He’s a speaker and a leading trends and transformation expert. He has shared his insights with some of the world’s largest companies and leaders regarding the future and how to manage during times of uncertainty.