As farmers age farming operations become larger, the business of farming will change. Farming is at a cross-roads. You either need to get bigger and more efficient, or more niche. More on all this another time.
Let’s look at some things that seem futuristic but are being implemented now.
Robotics / automation / Exoskeletons / sensors
Farmers have a long history of adopting technology and most are already using GPS and remote sensing. In the next 10 years’ farm automation will see huge leaps forward.
Robots are reducing the need for workers. 60,000 employees at Apple supplier Foxconn were replaced with robots this spring. This was in China. Where labor is low and Apple margins are high. So here in the US where labor is high, hard to find, margins are low and the work is hard, robots are inevitable. Companies like Blue River Technology are betting big and already have robotic lettuce thinners.
For jobs that will still require human labor, inexpensive and lightweight exoskeletons will be utilized. Today’s prototypes can increase output by 50%. No longer will a strong back be required!
Continuous plant monitoring sensors tell you in real time how the plant responds to light, temperature and number of other measurements. We all know today’s genetic potential for Corn is off the charts. It is plant stress that kills yield. With visual deficiencies taking 2 weeks to show, yield is lost before we even know there is a problem. Utilizing continuous sensors, you will know the minute your plant is suffering and be able to immediately take corrective action to protect yield.
There are challenges to these systems being used on farms. Farmers traditionally are slow to pay enterprise level fees to adopt technology. Farmers are older and older farmers in today’s markets are risk averse. New tech is risky.
Farmers will ultimately adopt new tech as it shows a cost savings or show a significant return. Major adoption will come once these technologies are easy to use.
Indoor / vertical farming
Robotic use is further intensified by rethinking what a farm is all together. Robotic indoor vertical farming can increase food out-put, reduce the environmental foot print and reduce cost all without a single person! There are acres of real estate going unused in cities. Enormous buildings that once housed armies of white collar paper pushers are empty. Malls are closing at alarming rates and even Wal-Mart is shedding stores. What better way to use the real-estate than to maximize food production.
The US already produces the world’s safest food. Still consumers want more. More safety, better quality (as judged by what’s important to them). For traditional terrestrial farmers and for the new robotic indoor farms, meeting the consumer demand for quality will be their number one priority. But isn’t this post about commodity farming? Food quality isn’t just for niche growers. General Mills purchasing Annie’s Organics proves that crops once thought as specialty will become mainstream commodities.
In addition, Successful Farming made waves in the Farming community with their Meet Your New Boss cover. Here’s the thing, Successful Farming is owned by Meredith Corp. they own many magazine titles, EatingWell, Family Circle, and Martha Stewart Living among the better known. They have direct connections to the consumer and know what is wanted.
The Farmer Consumer Connection
With the amount of capital at stake, large commodity farmers will need to understand consumer trends and wants to be profitable. Large farmers of the future will need to understand what the consumer wants before they do and plan production accordingly. Especially with the long lead times in growing food and getting certified for certain types of production.
Major manufactures don’t wait to decide until the last minute what to produce based on the consumer confidence index. They develop business plans and life cycle analysis of products based on a host of research. The best companies and these 3 big food giants are guided by the wants and needs of the consumer.
General Mills is actively looking for hundreds of thousands of acres to fill their need for organic grains to meet the demand. If you haven’t been paying attention to consumer needs, by the time you can meet the requirements, the premiums will be gone.
Farming is always evolving. Where do you see the future of farming heading?
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