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