The 10 forces that will change farming

Agriculture faces a future of incredible promise and potential, but it also faces powerful threats.

It’s all because of the revolutionary technologies that are moving into agriculture and the way people react to them, argues Agri-Trend founder Rob Saik in a brief new book.

“The world is moving in a powerful current … and the rate of change is only going to increase,” Saik said in an interview about The Agriculture Manifesto, which was released May 20 and is an Amazon bestseller.

“The adoption of technology in agriculture will enable us to feed nine billion people if the world allows us to adopt the technology.”

Saik’s book outlines 10 dynamic forces he thinks will affect farming and agriculture in the next 10 years, but his first one is not a beneficial technology but an intellectual force he sees as a threat, something he calls “the non-science movement.”

Saik said all the potential and benefits of radical new technologies that he outlines in the rest of the book could be killed if people who fight against allowing modern technologies to be used in farming manage to succeed.

“The biggest threat that may prevent agriculture from eradicating hunger on the planet is the non-science movement,” writes Saik.

He said attacks on genetically modified organisms, pesticides and other inputs and an industrial, science-based approach to farming could keep many beneficial technologies out of farmers’ hands.

Saik argues that everyone in agriculture, and especially farmers, need to start speaking up and getting their views out to the public to stop the non-science movement from winning. The movement has won many battles and is getting stronger, he added.

“In other words, we must turn ourselves into AGtivists,” he writes.

With the threat laid out, Saik sketches a farming future that is far more productive and value-producing than the present system.

A complex network of technologies, methods, data management systems and co-ordination will allow farmers to go from today’s relatively crude systems to one of precision and efficiency.

  • Bioengineering: This includes GMOs, epigenetics, proteomics and ionomics.
  • Targeted marketing: Instead of farmers and the agriculture industry focusing on massive and vague markets, farmers and food marketers will increasingly focus on refined slivers of markets and provide them with exactly what they want.
  • Sensor technology: Whether it is soil moisture, bin temperature and humidity or information gathered by drones, this technology will allow farmers to better customize their management to conditions they can only guess at now.
  • 3-D printing: Farmers will be able to produce many of their own spare machinery parts on the farm, rather than having to depend on fighting for the time and attention of repairmen and equipment manufacturers at intense periods of production.
  • Robotics: With labour already a critical restriction on farmers and likely to grow worse, increasing the amount of robotics on prairie farms will allow producers to manage their farms without having to spend their time trying to find help.
  • Water efficiency: Farmers will benefit from better-designed crops and farming systems that will reduce the amount of water used and lost in the crop and livestock production processes.
  • Precision agriculture: Customized application of crop inputs, connected through wireless networks that allow live analysis, will boost production and slash the amount of wasted inputs.
  • Artificial intelligence: “Augmented devices” such as Google Glass could allow farmers to become the hub of their own information and analysis centre, whether they’re in the field or in the shop.
  • Data management: In the era of Big Data, farmers will be able to connect multiple information flows wirelessly to a cloud-based hub that will bring all the new technologies and management systems together.

All these changes will transform the nature of the farmer and will happen fast.

“There is a new breed of farmer grappling with all these technologies. It’s changing the dynamics of the farm,” writes Saik.

“If the combine just quits during harvest, who is the 45-year-old farmer going to call to get it going, his 72-year-old father or his 17-year-old son?”

The mega-trends that Saik believes will dominate the industry aren’t something farmers can afford to ignore, he said. With something like precision agriculture, farmers failing to adopt the new technologies and management will fall far behind their neighbours.

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