In the coming months, I’ll be keynoting four agri-business conferences where I’ll be addressing future trends in agriculture. In my talk, I’ll cover a number of business, political, social, economic, demographic and technological trends, including precision agriculture, data mining/business analytics, biofuels, hydroponics, vertical farming, synthetic biology, cloud computing and supercomputing. What follows, however, are the five trends I believe will have the largest impact on agriculture in the coming years.
#1: Genetically Modified Crops
Water, fertilizers and land are increasing in price and the additional 3 billion people expected to populate the planet in the coming decades will put extra pressure on these precious resources. Advances in genetics will continue to produce extraordinary gains in the yield of a number of crops. For example, the Gates Foundation is striving to develop genetically modified cereal crops and, if successful, vast tracts of land on the African continent could suddenly become significantly productive. Other popular crops such as rice and cassava will also be modified to grow faster, stay fresher longer, be more resistance to insects and disease, and/or be imbued with enhanced nutrients.
As I explained in my best-selling book, The Next Big Thing is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business, nanotechnology has a range of practical agriculture applications in everything from advanced packaging and next-generation sensors to advanced animal husbandry techniques. To demonstrate, consider just one recent advance: a new nanoparticle vaccine. If successful this nanotechnology-enhanced treatment will allow cattle to receive a single vaccine for a multiple number of diseases, including bovine viral diarrhea, bovine ephemeral fever and cattle tick fever.
#3: Urban Agriculture
Earlier this year, a groundbreaking ceremony was conducted on a one-acre lot in a former strip mall in St. Paul, Minnesota. When the new urban greenhouse farm is complete it’ll produce 350,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and herbs annually. Fresh, locally grown produce in the middle of winter will soon become a reality for many residents around the world. In the coming years, expect ever more urban spaces to be converted to agricultural production as consumer demand for “locally grown” produce grows, and as food producers and distributors seek to lower their transportation costs and minimize their “carbon footprints.” The potential of urban agriculture is extraordinary because lots as small as a parking space can already produce up to 10,000 vegetables annually.
#4: Sensor Technology
Sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are already being deployed on fields to help farmers monitor moisture, temperature, humidity and PH levels. In some cases, an investment as small as $20 per acre in sensor technology is yielding savings of up to $150 per acre. The ROI will only increase as sensors continue to plummet in price. To understand how accessible this technology is consider that Bitponics, a small start-up company, now makes sensor technology available for home gardeners.
In the Upper Midwest, a small number of family diary farms are now using robots to milk their cows. Ironically, rather than putting farmers out of work the technology is encouraging younger farmers to stay on the family farm because it frees them from the burden of having to be available to milk cows seven days a week. Meanwhile at Georgia Tech University researchers are perfecting robots to debone chickens—one of the most difficult and delicate tasks in agriculture today. As robots continue to getter better and more affordable, expect the technology to continue to move from the large corporate farms to even the smallest of family farms and, in the process, it will transform agriculture as we know it.
Interested in other future-related thoughts from futurist Jack Uldrich? Checkout these older posts: