As we celebrate our centennial and all of the changes that the Farm Credit System and agriculture have seen in the past century, it's hard to imagine what the future will hold. To get some idea, Landscapes asked several industry experts and leaders how they think American agriculture will look in the next 25 years.
"Agriculture must gain higher public trust with regard to using technology to meet growing production demands."
Twenty-five years from now the population of the planet will be closing in on 9 billion. Can we feed this many people? The late Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, addressed the question. The answer was "yes," but we must be allowed to use the technology available to us.
Earning public trust in modern farming systems is critical. Food and agriculture must demonstrate that they are addressing the topics consumers care most about — safe food, quality nutrition, outstanding animal care, environmental stewardship and others. Authentic consumer engagement that fosters informed decision-making will help align food system practices with consumer values and expectations.
Charlie Arnot, CEO, The Center for Food Integrity
"Farm policy will be more difficult to put through an urban Congress."
Ag policy will be less dominated by the four- to five-year omnibus farm bill over the next 25 years. Numerous issues will be on the agenda each year. Farm policy will be more and more difficult to put through an urban Congress, especially if food and nutrition programs are removed from the farm bill.
Traditional price and income support programs will give way to a safety net based on crop insurance and trade agreements. A soil renaissance program will assist in revitalizing our soil. A declining farm population will need to learn the politics of the minority in order to build support into a majority.
Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, Kansas State University professor emeritus in agricultural economics and Farm Credit 100 Fresh Perspectives Top 10 honoree
"Regulations will make it extremely difficult for small, independent producers to survive."
Here are some thoughts:
- Agriculture will move rapidly into coordinated supply chains supplied by qualified suppliers with intricate and real-time traceability and verification audits on virtually every aspect of production. Some supply-chain leads will provide financing for their growers.
- Biotechnology and nanotechnology will continue to grow at an exponential pace, leading to the production of specific-attribute raw materials and increased globalization of production.
- By 2050 there is a chance the Farm Credit System will have completely consolidated. In part, this will be in response to improvements in information technology, the cost of regulatory compliance and political pressure from commercial banks, forcing the System to become essentially a cooperative commercial bank.
This would be a worst-case scenario for independent commercial bankers.
- Regulations on food safety and sustainability will proliferate to the point that the required level of management ability and technology will make it virtually impossible for small independent producers to survive.
- Water will become the oil of the 21st century, and diminishing aquifers will cause major shifts in production patterns across the U.S.
- Robotics, remote sensing and remote control will displace many human labor jobs.
- Solar energy will advance tremendously, along with battery storage capacity.
Dr. Danny Klinefelter, Texas A&M University professor of agricultural economics/director of The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers and AgTexas Farm Credit Services board member
"As agriculture evolves, organic and urban farming will play a bigger role."
Urban agriculture, organic farming and food hubs, while constituting a small part of the agriculture industry in 2016, will continue to grow. This trend may increase the need for credit programs to support the direct-to-consumer business model.
- Conservation, environmental concerns, food safety, public health and animal welfare are among the many issues that will influence decision-makers in agriculture.
- Greater diversity in the U.S. population will increase diversity in agriculture and among Farm Credit System borrowers.
- A growing global population will place greater demands on the food supply. Agricultural exports and trade relationships will be vital to the industry.
- The changing use of data in agriculture will foster innovation and improve operational awareness and efficiencies.
Kenneth Spearman, Farm Credit Administration Board Chairman and CEO
"The expanse of urban areas will lead to conflict with agriculture and rural communities."
The next 25 years will see the U.S. population expand substantially. While growth ensures increased demand for food and fiber, this vast expansion of urban population will create the potential for more conflicts with agricultural and rural communities. Those challenges will likely play out in a number of ways:
- Expanding cities need water. Current planning envisions the transfer of water from agricultural use to municipal use. By 2040, current legal uncertainties will have been resolved, and functioning water markets will move water from where it occurs to where it is needed.
- The expanding population will increase demand for recreational opportunities and competition for access to those amenities. Prices for hunting and birdwatching retreats will rise, overwhelming the value of agricultural uses. This facet of growing urbanization will likely erode public support for continuation of open-space taxation based on agricultural use value without concessions by landowners.
- Growing populations will result in more housing and infrastructure. Fewer people will have direct contact with land and landowners. Public pressure will attempt to inject public input into land management decisions. Rural landowners will likely face demands for public access, land-use planning, landuse controls and other public intrusions on land-use decisions. These pressures could end private property rights as they currently exist.
- The incredible growth by 2040 will raise land values. Responsible landowners who have effectively managed their resources will see their wealth grow. This increase in prosperity will allow access to capital to fund property improvements.
Dr. Charles Gilliland, research economist, Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University