By Michele F. Mihaljevich
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – The ability of North American farmers to feed the world over the next decade will be influenced by such trends as the optimization of water use and improved internet connectivity, according to a report released earlier this year by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).
“The goal of the white paper (The Future of Food Production) was to present a look at the next 10 years and provide information to help farmers or growers prepare for the impacts that are emerging today and in the future,” explained Megan Tanel, AEM’s president. “It’s also for anyone who eats. Really, this is for all of us. This is a great education piece for anyone who wants to understand the challenges of the food production system.”
By 2050, the world’s population will increase by 2.2 billion people, meaning farmers will need to produce about 70 percent more food with no additional land or natural resources, she said. Producing more food with less environmental impact is another one of the trends listed in the report.
“Our farmers have always been responsible stewards of the land, and as environmental expectations continue to change, that’s going to raise the bar even higher for farmers to continue to grow more with less,” Tanel noted.
“America’s farmers have always met the challenges of their time and with the global populations rising and food demand increasing, a shrinking skilled workforce and the need for environmental conservation becoming more urgent, I really believe that most farmers who want to stay competitive will look at updating their methods for doing business.”
Other trends included in the report are increased global demand for protein, shorter food supply chain, geographic shifts in production, advanced food traceability to help maintain consumer trust, farmer adjustments in response to emission regulation, changes in farm ownership models, and new business models.
AEM worked with member company representatives in creating the white paper. Two officials with AGCO Corp. – Brad Arnold, senior vice president and general manager, precision, and Grant Good, director, global smart ag engineering – responded to questions from Farm World via email.
“There is little doubt that there will be some new challenges for the agriculture industry to address in the future but rising to tackle challenges is nothing new for our farmers,” they wrote. “Some of the more difficult challenges could be those that require the evolution of enabling infrastructure, maintaining regulatory environments conducive to meeting production needs, and other factors further removed from the direct influence of farmers and technology providers. Enabling infrastructure, for example, could include improvements in rural broadband access, efficiency improvements in our irrigation water distribution systems, or preparations to ease the adoption and utilization of alternative fuel sources.”
Tanel said that while all the trends are important, water conservation will be especially crucial moving forward. According to a study from McKinsey & Co., water supplies will fall 40 percent short of meeting global needs by 2030.
“I think one of the greatest challenges and one that we’re never going to stop talking about is the optimization of water use,” she stated. “As we know, water is essential. It’s essential for farming, it’s essential for life. It’s what we use to secure the food supply chain.”
Tanel said possible solutions include better soil management practices, and the use of precision irrigation, closed loop irrigation systems and seed varieties that need less water.
“I think farmers will embrace some of these new tools and solutions and these techniques to deliver water at precisely the right time, ensuring better management of our future food supply,” she said.
In their email, Arnold and Good said, as with the evolution of any industry, investments in new areas or new lines on the farm balance sheet may be required. “Barring regulatory items, though, economics will really be the driver of any change. Clear operational efficiency gains, reductions in inputs, maximizing the value of what’s produced, or establishing higher yield potential will be the main driving factors behind the evolutions we will see on farms, and opportunities for both farmers and technology providers will arise.”
Tanel acknowledged there will be a cost for farmers to transition to new technologies and equipment. She mentioned a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate last year – the Precision Agriculture Loan Act – that could help farmers with that transition.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would offer low-cost and long-term loans to agriculture producers who want to adopt precision agriculture technologies but can’t afford the initial costs through traditional financing, according to Fischer’s website.
Rural broadband improvement is also a key, Tanel pointed out, as farmers will be better able to access new technologies that will lessen the impact on the environment. Rural broadband access is important to everyone, not just farmers, she added.
Tanel said a follow up report containing solutions to some of the problems raised in the white paper is expected before the end of the year.
Arnold and Good said to get the word out about the white paper, AEM and its members will continue to promote it. “Ultimately, the aim is to help prepare producers, policymakers and other stakeholders to better understand the challenges ahead and to spark the changes needed to feed a growing world,” they wrote.
To read the white paper, visit www.aem.org/future-of-food-production.