Farming in 10 years time

The perception of farming in 10 years’ time is shaped by farming practices employed within the industry today. The challenges to be faced need to be met head on with a proactive response, as today’s issues will evolve with wider market influences.

New technologies will see cloud computing, smart phones, GPS and autosteer become commonplace and the industry should adapt quickly to attract young business minds from other sectors.

It is important that young farmers continue to be nurtured into family run businesses as the rise of larger farming companies will continue, and thus rural communities should be embraced to remain intact.

The integration of technology with nature and education will allow young minds to develop entrepreneurial skills and challenge established farming practices. The use of social media will help the industry to embrace the challenge of informing consumers about the origins and processes of their food.

Furthermore, water and carbon should be viewed as integral farming assets, and as areas for resource experimentation, to enable sustainability for future generations.

The discussion held on Thursday 1st November 2012 looked at the topic of “farming in 10 year’s time” and generated a total of 480 tweets on the topic from 61 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders.

A full summary of the discussion can be found here:

Q1a Which new technologies or sciences are likely to revolutionise farming over the next 10 years? 

  • GPS technology, autosteer slave tractors and coping with tier IV engines
  • Mobile phones / iPads: data tracking, analytics, trading, connecting, communications
  • The capability to share detailed data from farms using mobile apps and cloud technology is a real game changer
  • 4G may be and probably 5G, the communication list can be endless
  • Autosteer on implements will have a huge effect on arable farming when it arrives
  • GPS tracking of grain trailers by the combine driver is happening in trials

Q1b Will biotech become key to productivity? Is GM misunderstood- will it become necessary to feed all?

  • Protected horticulture will be over 80% self sufficient in energy & water by 2022, almost chemical free & 30% higher yields
  • GM was a PR disaster in the 90’s. Biotech and GM are key tools to help us feed the nation
  • There’s a lot of research re: biotechnology, slow process, maybe something good in 10 years
  • Absolutely not GM – there are many better options, not least change consumption patterns to obviate need to tinker etc
  • There is a world of difference between biotechnology and GM. Let’s work with nature not try to dominate it
  • Either eat crops GM to resist disease or eat normal crops with gals of toxic insecticide and fungicide applied!?

Q1c Will the ELS and HLS still exist or will we be planting every acre due to food shortages?

  • We don’t have a supply problem (yet) more a distribution problem. 30% of food is wasted BEFORE it reaches consumer
  • Science of climate change will dominate green farm policy too

Q2a Are we facing a generational crisis in agriculture? How will newcomers afford to begin farming in 10yrs?

  • Biggest issue for horticulture succession is next generation can see how poorly supermarkets treat their parents
  • In N.I. have seen record numbers of applicants in the past 3 years
  • The need to produce 50% more food by 2050 will put pressure on producers to be more efficient
  • Yes we do have an age crisis. No we will not fix it. Resulting in much larger farms
  • The next generation won’t own the land they farm they will work for large farming companies with holidays, pensions and careers.
  • Make it fun, make it valued. Surprisingly money less of a factor
  • The future is diversity in all walks of life. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has big role

Q2b How should more young professionals be brought into agriculture in the next 10 years?

  • Could introducing modern technology such as tablet computers for on the farm jobs attract the youngsters?
  • Ag needs to make biotech, engineering, animal health, IT challenges more exciting. Cast net wider than Ag grads
  • The talent is coming from INSIDE the family farm too – next gen taking them forward
  • Land reform is vital here. Scottish estates are anti people especially young people

Q3a If more young people are not helped/encouraged into farming, will the industry’s innovation be curbed?

  • Will there be openings for those who want the work, with bigger more efficient machinery etc?
  • Farming companies would take the Big Food route – poor wages no prospects in pursuit of profit!
  • Also need generations to upgrade attitudes and handover etc. 80yr olds not letting 60yr old sons sign cheques has to go!

Q3b What kind of business brain do next generation farmers need to make it and survive in the next 10 years?

  • Co-opportunity, collaboration, low-growth, value added, blended lifestyle
  • A keen marketing brain diversifiers and entrepreneurs are leading the way for the future
  • Farmers have to be multi functional, vet, mechanic, agronomist, often business is learnt on job
  • A farm is a business so you absolutely need to have a business brain, but it’s more than that
  • To move with technology yet work with nature and education is paramount
  • Ruthless cynicism and technical brilliance should do it.
  • People who invest in marketing skills will know how to wield the entrepreneurial ability
  • Farmers need to be prepared to challenge established practice. It takes research, bravery and skill but capital too sadly

Q4a Will UK farming get more specialised or return to more diverse/integrated practices? What about internationally?

  • Farming will split: more specialised (ultimately less successful) and more diverse (better, but economics will lag)
  • Already happening. Specialist produce/rare breeds anything that can have niche consumers and ease of marketing
  • Farms will become specialised as scale increases will only mix things where land quality dictates

Q4b How will UK agriculture need to adapt to growing shocks/stresses e.g. climate change & pressure from agriculture in Brazil/India/China etc?

  • Ag should respond to BRIC growth by developing domestic markets to meet shortfall in importable supplies
  • UK imports 80% of fresh produce scope for increasing self sufficiency via energy cost savings
  • Invest to climate proof business We had to completely rebuild all buildings after extreme snow and flood prevention
  • Do we need to become smarter producers coupling our growth with eco-environmental technologies to help us?
  • Need to be diverse and resilient. If one enterprise affected, other enterprises to absorb effects
  • Connect with local/regional markets to succeed in farming. There’s nothing you can do about Brazil! Build on strength!

Q5 If UK agriculture is moving to fewer & bigger farms- does this make it stronger and more competitive, or weaker and more vulnerable?

  • Big farms = weak and vulnerable. Really bad move in conditions of climate
  • Resilience is THE key thing in times of change
  • Fewer bigger farms occur because innovators are succeeding and expanding, as others catch up balance will return
  • Would have thought the size of the farm is less of an issue than how risks are managed?
  • Larger farms usually drive unit costs down- family labour also does. Vulnerability is to the unforeseen and then cash important
  • Big = best is surely outdated? Attention to detail essential but not possible when big.

Q6 Will there be any merchants/independents left to buy from/ sell to? Or will there only be massive internationals?

  • Looks bleak. However, there will be independent outlets, but hard to see them being our salvation, or multiples being sweet
  • Pleasantly surprised by rise in local specialist grocers and deli’s sourcing local fresh produce lately
  • There will always be smaller independents. They can provide a personal service that the big merchants can’t match.
  • Buying and selling will go towards fewer large companies – not good news
  • Hopefully the merchants/independents will prosper. The foot is firmly in the market and internationals are working with many
  • The trouble is internationally speaking, UK market is relatively insignificant in terms of volumes

Q7a Will next 10 years see agriculture’s most passionate using the media to put the ‘Great’ into British food and farming?

  • Absolutely I have never known the industry so media savvy
  • We have to use media to the max as new into farming no government understanding or support
  • Public = 65m! Huge range of attitudes/understanding. Overall, some positive change, but many dinosaurs. Media key.
  • Social media can be used very effectively, goes particularly well with diversification activities and public awareness – very effective but also time consuming to do it properly

Q7b Is there a shift happening in the public’s perception/ understanding of farming? Where will it be in 10 years time?

  • Public support/awareness to farming is improving SLOWLY shown during #sosdairy etc. Long process though. Needs to be ongoing
  • People genuinely want to know and it’s down to us to tell/show them. Work with school children,
  • I think it will only be the foodie, wellie, chicken crowd who will know more about ag. But that crowd is growing
  • Change now, not sure. Is change possible, yes, but a collective, positive approach is essential
  • With social media & on line everything more people are informed, this can only but grow. It’s down to us to put the info out
  • There needs to be a greater effort in the traceability of our food, from farmer to plate to gather more pride from consumers
  • Perception has improved but polarised, emotive arguments cause massive long term damage
  • No point saying farming is great if we don’t supply good value food and ever improving wildlife. All farmers need to do BOTH.

Q8 bovine TB &mega units = seen as welfare issues rather than public health/food security risks. Will this change? When?

  • Education for consumers, more real people, real stories where consumers can read/see effects of TB, low price of milk etc.
  • Education of Gen. Public-No diff 100 cows or 1000? As long as required standards met
  • Food shortages or unaffordable price rises or resulting public illness but these are own goals
  • Education for consumers, more real people, real stories where consumers can read/see effects of TB, low price of milk etc.
  • bTB and mega units raise entirely different issues, mistake to put them together under a single heading – keep separate

Q9 If farms are bigger, more commercial, and less family businesses, how will this impact on the fabric of rural communities? 

  • It will destroy local communities- go from farm to process unit to supermarket meaning less diversity & specialisation
  • A well run small family farm is capable of competing against a badly run large commercial unit
  • Rural communities already depleted, could end up non-existent
  • Rural depopulation/more city dwellers moving in, result is less use of rural services and closure, shops/pubs etc
  • Rural communities increasingly urbanised. However employment opportunities will still exist
  • Large units bring considerable management challenges, e.g. staff communication/specialization

Q10 What will be the role of single farm payments from the EU in 10 years?

  • Keeping farms tied to wildlife initiatives through dependency on subsidy
  • After selection of the correct pillar (pillar 1) hopefully supporting young people into the industry
  • Conservation/ restoration/ greening. Would be nice to see some been used for investment in ‘best available technologies’ etc
  • Maybe buying a wider range of services from land like water management, carbon storage, big emphasis on soil protection?
  • Subsidy payments are already becoming irrelevant to intensive livestock production
  • Depends if we are still in EU, if Euro still exists and if world is fighting over limited food supplies.

Q11 Will farming for water or air (carbon) be as important as farming for food? How will farmers feel about this?

  • Some of the water farming could be for flood management as well as water gathering
  • Farming for water and carbon don’t need farm land but just as important. Urban role in use
  • Looking forward to more urban agriculture and capture of urban phosphates, too. 30m tonnes raw sewage in Thames this year.
  • Farmland can make huge contribution, while still producing food albeit reduced output
  • Idea of “Water Farming” has crossed my mind in past. Not so much this year! Precious resource though, coming under increasing stress
  • Water farming in the way of conservation for re-use on the farm could be key as can solar power

Q12 Will we see different crops/animals in UK ag to cope with climate/ natural resource pressures? Are you looking at any?

  • I’m considering Rice and Ducks!!
  • S England already producing sparkling white wines to rival champagne
  • Energy self/sufficiency in protected horticulture will allow tropical fruit & veg to be grown commercially in UK
  • More local suited breeds. In one century, 75% plant genetic diversity has been lost
  • 75% of world’s food supply comes from just 12 plants and 5 animals
  • 30% of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction, with 6 breeds lost each month
  • Yes we are experimenting with cover crops on arable land, with sheep grazing it in winter
  • We have started using test plots of cover crops to try and improve depleted soil organic matter

Links to more information

Simon Haley and Alan Spedding, 3 November 2012

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