Future Farms of America: Listen Up

The future of farming likely looks very different than what you might think. I recently visited a number of farms in western Minnesota where the Redwood County Farm Bureau hosted a tour that exposed us to modern agriculture production – the practices, challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the industry. This outing came on the heels of many other discussions over the past year at events, including Esca Bona and Expo West, focused on “good food movements” and further confirms the systemic changes underway.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

People will always have to eat. It’s one of the things we love about being in this industry – it’s always changing, but it’s always in demand. However, the population is growing at a rate that requires farmers globally to increase production by 70%1 in coming years to feed the 9.1 billion people expected to be alive in 2050. Simultaneously, income levels are increasing within developing countries which gives consumers a larger voice to demand quality food products that align with their nutrition needs and preferences.

This is forcing a number of farming components to change dramatically and rapidly. The two that stand out from the discussions highlighted on our farm tours? The growers and the technology.

WHAT WE THINK

According to the 2012 agriculture census, growers who are older than 65 outnumber farmers who are younger than 45 for the first time in history.1 The prediction is that farming will continue to consolidate to more mid- and large-scale farms and that the younger farmers will approach the business from a “farm-management” position. Research indicates that Millennial growers are educated (57% have a bachelor degree), tech-focused, and business-savvy.2 They also view farming as a business and a lifestyle – and that as a demographic they are highly purpose-driven.2 This was backed by every farmer who spoke on the tour, who shared that the passion is rooted in much more than the business itself. For younger growers, it is truly a way of life.

Technology showed up in some surprising ways along the tour, but most interesting was the impact it is making on effective farming practices. The dairy farm we visited was managed by people but operated by robots. The implementation of robots allowed this farmer to remain in business – without it, the labor costs would have been too much to compete with larger producers. Apart from robots, many farms rely on imaging from drones to inform soil and field analysis. This data can be critical in maximizing production through planting, spraying, monitoring and harvesting.

WHAT’S NEXT

Spending a day in the life of a farmer sheds light on the incredibly complex and dynamic business we know as agriculture. The next generation has steep challenges ahead that will depend on innovative thinking and a purpose-driven approach.

[1] “Trending 2050: Future of Farming.” McMahon, Karen. Syngenta. Thrive. Spring 2017.
[2] “Millennial are Increasingly Making Key Farming Decisions.” Maulsby, Darcy. Syngenta. Thrive. Winter 2017.

Crickets: They’re What’s for Dinner

“One hundred thousand crickets…in your basement?” With this excerpt from a recent conversation, Eric Palen, a local entrepeneur who is in the business of farming insects as food, raised a lot of questions and even more eyebrows about this growing trend. After the “gross factor” fades, the facts emerge. It turns out we’ve found a new source of protein that’s compelling for… well, a number of surprisingly good reasons.

Nearly 2,000 insect species are already a part of diets across the globe and they’re making their way to North America in a variety of forms. In fact, the global edible insect market is forecasted to grow to $153.9M in North America by 2023 and over $1 billion worldwide.1

GOOD GOD, WHY?

As the world population grows along with a demand on global resources, alternative protein sources are a heightened concern. Insects take less of a toll on these resources while still delivering a compelling nutrition profile.

Insect farming, on average, requires significantly less land, water and feed than other species – especially with the recent adoption of modern agricultural practices like vertical farming in place. To produce 1 kg of beef, 38x more land, 23x more water and 12x more feed are required compared to insects. This results in approximately 1800x the greenhouse gas emissions.

In conversation with Palen, post-growth production of cricket protein is pretty straightforward. To harvest the crickets, he freezes them before washing, boiling and roasting them. From there, they can be consumed in “whole cricket” form or alternatively, ground down into a powder for use in smoothies, chocolate, protein bars or breads.

On the nutrition front, crickets (whether in “whole” or “powder” form) contain comparable levels of protein to beef and higher levels of iron. They are considered a complete protein source – containing all of the essential amino acids, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and are high in both calcium and vitamin B12.2 It is easy to see why this food source would be explored further as we begin to think creatively about how to effectively feed a growing world population.

WHAT WE THINK

Environmental and nutritional considerations alone don’t make me want to top a Cobb salad with roasted crickets. That being said, we can’t overlook the logic in why and how insects might be a part of the North American food pyramid moving forward. Already commonplace in many large markets around the world, it may just take some time – and experience – to find out how they fit.

As cricket powder and flour makes its way into mainstream through more familiar formats, like bars and breads, there will be a more approachable delivery to educate consumers on the social, environmental and nutritional benefits of insects as protein. It will be an important link in the food chain to keep an eye on as it brings up real issues of “food and footprint” – and how we responsibly balance impact with real consumer demand.

WHAT’S NEXT

Not unlike most new product launches, crickets and other insects will likely gain adoption through innovators and early adopters. Eating an insect is, admittedly, a highly Instagrammable moment, and we see that venues and restaurants have an opportunity to lead from two primary places: experience and culture. Outside of the “wow-factor”, many insect dishes are traditional to various regions and offer chefs a new product to experiment with in menu development. When it comes to edible insects, powder may increase in quantity more rapidly, but whole form will drive awareness with visual impact. 

Just some Thought for Food™

[1] “Insects as Food.” Warren, Haley. de Sousa, Agnieska. Rekoaa, Roni. Bloomberg. July 2018.
[2] “Little Herds: Feeding the Future with Insects”. Articles and Iconographic(s) provided by Little Herds.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

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