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Jim spent so much time customizing the presentation for one agricultural conference that at the conclusion, one fellow came up and asked him how long he had been a farmer!

In 2011, Jim was the opening keynote speaker for a conference that featured an audience of the top 100 cattle ranchers, feedlots and stockers in the US -- and thrilled the audience with his insight into global trends impacting the agriculture sector. Some of Jim's agriculture clients include • Farm Media Journal • FMC Agriculture • Texas Cattle Feeders Association • FCC Services US (Farm Credit Cooperative) • MicroBeef Technologies • Mid-America Crop Protection Association • FarmTech • AgProgress Conference • Agricorp • CropLife Canada • US Department of Agriculture • American Agriwoman Society • Syngenta • American Landscape and Nursery Association • Monsanto •

Caught your attention, didn’t I, and you obviously want to point something out to me!

Farmer

“Here’s a good question: when it comes to you, or the organization that work for, what type of farmer are you?”

But now that I have your attention, think about the honourable profession of farming — it’s been around almost since the beginning of time.

And it’s a profession that has involved a lot of trial and error; failure and success; and a heck of a lot of innovation.

Often, during a keynote, I will tell the story that there are really two different types of farmers in the agricultural industry. And I make the point to the audience that their attitude towards innovation should be considered in the light of the attitudes carried by each type of farmer.

The first type of farmer is what we might call the ‘apathetic minority’, who share these attributes:

  • they are not optimistic about the future
  • they tend to seek the “same old advice” from the “same old sources”
  • they have a high intolerance for risk
  • they’re not convinced they can continue to make a comfortable living despite all the contrary evidence
  • they’re skeptical of their potential since they feel they’ve seen too many ups and downs in the industry

Then there is the second group we might call the ‘future positive‘ type of farmer. They share these attributes :

  • they’re quite optimistic about the future
  • they’re very business minded, using all the latest tools and ideas at their disposal
  • they are very innovation oriented, willing to approach everything in a new way with new ideas
  • they are very collaborative for advice, seeking ideas from anyone and everyone
  • they’re often focused on planning, profit, growth, with clear objectives in mind

So here’s a good question: when it comes to you, or the organization that work for, what type of farmer are you?

Here’s a good video clip where I go into this storyline on stage. Enjoy!

I’m doing a lot of interviews these days around the future of agriculture. Maybe that’s because I’m doing a lot of keynotes in this field (pardon the pun), but also because a lot of searches for trends in agriculture hit my site.

"Plants might someday be able to analyze themselves, through genetic coding or embedded computer chips, he says. Do your plants need a nitrogen boost or a drink of water? They’ll send alerts directly to your computer."

“Plants might someday be able to analyze themselves, through genetic coding or embedded computer chips, he says. Do your plants need a nitrogen boost or a drink of water? They’ll send alerts directly to your computer.”

Here’s the latest, from AgWeb / The Farm Journal Technology publication. You can find the original article here.

What will agriculture look like in 2043?
by Ben Potter, Farm Journal Technology, April 2013

Driverless tractors! Weed-zapping robots! Data-transmitting crops! Forecasting what farms will be like 30 years from now might seem an exercise in science fiction, but imagine how alien today’s farms might appear to someone from the early 1980s. Imagine pulling a farmer aside from that era and trying to explain telematics or precision ag technology. Imagine explaining what your smartphone can do.

Making a multi-decade forecast is a challenge, admits David Nicholson, head of research and development at Bayer CropScience.

“I always say we can look 10 years into the future because that’s how long research and development projects take,” he says. “We know what’s going to happen because it’s in our labs and our pipelines today.”

Anything beyond that window is trickier, says Nicholsen, who foresees a more localized precision ag experience.

“It will be precise,” he explains. “That seed in that bit of the field is working well. That same seed in that other bit of the field isn’t. Why? What’s different? We will have the tools to do plant-by-plant analysis.”

Noted futurist Jim Carroll takes the idea a step further. Plants might someday be able to analyze themselves, through genetic coding or embedded computer chips, he says. Do your plants need a nitrogen boost or a drink of water? They’ll send alerts directly to your computer.

“It’s not farfetched to think of intelligent plants with connectivity,” Carroll says. In fact, connectivity is a concept that will drive agricultural advancements as the next generation moves in.

“The farmer of 2043 is five today,” Carroll says. “He or she has never known a world without mobile devices and mass connectivity.”

Another driving force comes down to mathematics, says Ron Restum, vice president of North America sales with Koch Agronomic Services.

The generally accepted equation is a world population of 9 billion people by the year 2050 with a dwindling amount of available arable land. Therefore, Restum says farmers must produce more bushels per acre, or the numbers won’t pencil out.

Technology Driven. “Progress will have to be tech-driven,” Restum says. “We have to continue to be on the forefront of R&D.” Some technologies that sound far-flung should be staples before 2043, but technology and human concerns must be balanced before a product can be integrated.

The autonomous tractor is a prime example. Several companies have developed prototypes. John Deere has been working on driverless tractors for 5 to 10 years, according to Bob Dyar, a product manager with the company’s Intelligent Solutions Group.

“The real hurdles aren’t technological ones—they’re social ones,” Dyar says. How comfortable would you feel driving down the highway and seeing a driverless car alongside, he asks. A similar comfort level for driverless tractors will take time to develop, he says.

“It’s quite easy to make a tractor autonomous where it can drive itself,” Dyar says. “The challenge is making it perceptive, so you trust it not to hit a tree or the family dog.”

If farming goes “robotic,” will a farmer’s role fundamentally change? The farmer becomes the general, and the office serves as the command center where the troops (remote-controlled tractors, robots armed with lasers that identify and zap weeds and insects) are sent into battle each day.

What the farm of the future will look like is anybody’s guess, says Craig Ratajczyk, Illinois Soybean Association chief executive officer. “Significant changes are inevitable,” he says. “Thirty years from now, farming won’t look anything like it does today.”

I appear online and in the April issue of Growing Produce magazine in Florida, talking about some trends impacting the future of agriculture.

The "robotic tractor of the future isn't too far away!

The “robotic tractor of the future isn’t too far away!


The Future Is Now In Agricultural Technologies
March 14, 2013
By Frank Giles

If you could look into a crystal ball and see the future of agriculture over the next 25 years, you would be blown away and find some of it hard to imagine. And, you might be surprised that what seems futuristic is already happening on the farm.

When considering the pace of technological advancements, Moore’s Law is constructive. It generally states that computing power doubles every two years (some say 18 months). While the computing power doubles, the price for the technology falls.

Think about Apple’s iPhone. Every year the company introduces two new-and-improved versions of the phone. Each one is a little faster and can do more stuff, while the earlier versions get cheaper in price.

While all these gee-whiz advancements seem to be happening most in consumer electronics, don’t be fooled. It is happening in agriculture, too. Jim Carroll and Jack Uldrich are two popular futurists on the speaking circuit across the U.S. Both say the wave of innovation impacting agriculture will be staggering in the coming years. “We live in tremendous times and tend to overlook the leaps we’ve made particularly in agriculture,” says Uldrich.

Sensors And Bots

The size of computer sensors are getting smaller, but more powerful over time, while the price drops. Imagine a watermelon field with tiny sensors spread thoughout connected to the vines to inform the grower exactly what plants need for water and other inputs. “These sensors are getting so affordable they already are being used in West Coast vineyards and on farms in Israel,” says Urldrich. “That may sound like science fiction, but who would have imagined 25 years ago that today we would have immediate access to the world’s encyclopedia in our pockets via the use of smartphones.”

Carroll says robotics will be having an impact on the farm quicker than people would believe. “The technology for autonomous vehicles is already pretty mature,” he says. “If you have a meeting with Google in San Jose, they’ll pick you up at the airport in an autonomous car. There’s a person inside ‘just in case.’ It will probably be easier to deploy on a farm than on a highway.

Given all the controversy around immigration reform, Uldrich says robots might fill in for harvest in the future.“There are people at MIT who have developed a robot so sophisticated that it can detect when a tomato is ripe and so sensitive it can pick it without damaging the fruit,” he says. “Robotic technology is getting better, faster, and more affordable. It will allow us to do much more in harvesting a wide variety of crops.”

A Whole New World

There is a viral YouTube clip of a 1-year-old girl trying to manipulate a print magazine like an iPad. She moves her fingers around the magazine to no avail — it does nothing. Give her an iPad and she’s delighted flicking through screens with her fingers.

Jack Uldrich marvels that technology is becoming so user-friendly and intuitive that a baby can figure it out. “What will that little girl expect for information as she gets older,” he asks. “She will want to interact with information. She will want to know who grew the oranges she buys. Social media already is providing this opportunity for interaction and the demand for it will only grow in the future.”

Future of ag is focused on growth
By Zoe Martin Iowa Farmer Today | Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 

Jim Carroll knows a lot about camping, urban renewal, golf and agriculture. Above all, the author, speaker and consultant knows change.

IowaFarmerToday

“It’s hard to explain what I do,” said Carroll, a “futurist.” “I walk into virtually every kind of organization and talk to them about trends — recently KOA Campgrounds on the future of camping and travel.”

Carroll has spoken at national meetings for mayors, PGA of America and the Walt Disney Co. He has also spoken at meetings for Syngenta, the USDA, Farm Credit Cooperative and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association predicting future trends in agriculture. Fittingly, No. 1 is growth.

“Ag is a huge growth industry,” Carroll said. “I always start with the basic premise production has to double. That’s the long-term reality.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, farmers will need to produce 70 percent more food for an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. Carroll said this calls for “a continuing ramp-up in efficiency.”

The quest for efficiency leads Carroll to his next main trend in ag, something he calls “hyper-science.”

“Certainly, acceleration of science, with pesticides, plant genomics, precision ag,” Carroll said. “There’s certain key trends that are common to all industries: Science is evolving faster. The next generation of kids who’ve grown up with computers think and act faster.”

Carroll’s work is based on intensive research of the industry he’s targeting along with these universal trends.

His third focus when speaking to ag audiences is on generational transformation.

“The third big thing is younger kids taking over family farms,” Carroll said. “Give me a 25-year-old farmer with a Mac in his combine and iPhone connected to his hip — he’s willing to try what ever tech John Deere will put out there.”

Carroll also points out more specific changes in agriculture in the last 10 years that will affect the industry during the next 10.

There is the “energy opportunity.” There will be an expected $1.2 billion in new income for farmers and rural landowners involved with new energy sources required under Department of Energy mandates, Carroll said.

Convenience and health will take center stage, Carroll predicted in 2005, and that has proven true as consumer tastes and expectations change. These expectations are also driving innovations in packaging and labeling for more traceability.

Carroll is optimistic about the future of agriculture—it’s one of the prerequisites of a job as a futurist.

“It’s all upside,” he said, though some farmers will complain about current volatility or the rate of change in the industry.

“There’s a quote I often use on stage, ‘Some people see future trends and see a threat, innovative people see that and see opportunity,’” Carroll said. “There will be people who prefer to see world slow down.”

In agriculture, that’s not an option, and Carroll pushes this in his speaking engagements

“Innovation defines success,” he has said, and “adopting new methodologies, products, partnerships and ideas” will help farmers thrive.

I’m thrilled to be selected to be the opening keynote speaker for WEFTEC 2012, which is recognized as the largest annual water quality conference and exhibition in the world. It will be held in New Orleans this fall; it will be the 5th major conference that I have headlined in New Orleans this year.

You can read the press release here from the Water Environment Federation. 

This is an extremely important event, dealing with one of the most significant challenges of our time. The issue of water is critically important as we go into the future, and there are huge opportunities for innovation with regard to water safety, quality, sourcing, recycling and treating. Consider just a few critical facts:

  • demand for water is expected to rise 50% in developing countries between now and 2025
  • 85% of US water utilities, desperately working to upgrade dated infrastructure, indicated in a  survey that said that the average water consumer has no idea as to the size of the gap between what they pay for water / wastewater services, and the actual cost of delivery
  • around 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten, and the water used to produce it a real loss

Balance such stark trends — and there are many of them — against the innovative thinking that is occurring within the industry. Consider the “Seawater Greenhouse”, which can, according to an article in The Independent Newspaper, which can “make the desert bloom with seawater, corrugated cardboard and wind.”

Wow! This is going to a fascinatingly innovative industry to get involved with. I look forward to the research on this one, and inspiring the world of water to more aggressively innovative with the future.

Some extracts from the press release:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Jim Carroll, a respected author, columnist, media commentator and consultant who links future trends to innovation and creativity, will deliver the keynote address during the Opening General Session of WEFTEC 2012 this fall in New Orleans, LA. The opening session will kick off the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) 85th annual technical exhibition and conference, a five-day event that is expected to draw thousands of water quality professionals and exhibitors to the New Orleans Convention Center from September 29 to October 3, 2012.

As one of the world’s leading international futurists, trends and innovation experts, Carroll has provided strategic guidance and insight to some of the most prestigious organizations in the world. He is recognized worldwide as a thought leader and authority on global trends, rapid business model change, business transformation in a period of economic uncertainty, and the necessity for fast paced innovation.

“We live and work in a period of unprecedented change”, said Carroll. “Intelligent infrastructure concepts continue to emerge from the hypothetical to the real while new design methodologies and concepts challenge water professionals to keep ahead of these fast paced developments. I’ll cover the key trends that will provide challenge in the future and outline how to turn them into opportunity.”

The theme of this year’s Opening General Session will focus on “A New Direction for WEF” and tie into the organization’s new Strategic Direction that was announced earlier this year. Carroll’s presentation on innovation and transformation strategy is expected to frame the larger program theme and provide some tools and tips for how to achieve a higher level of success through significant, transformative change.

When science speeds up!
April 26th, 2012

Jim Carroll speaks to the annual general meeting of the PGA of America, challenging them to think about what happens “when science speeds up.”

Big data. Big opportunities!
April 23rd, 2012

Back in February, I flew into Aspen, Colorado, to speak at the leadership meeting for a major consulting firm. My topic? An extremely customized keynote on the trends and opportunities that are unfolding with the new era of analytics and what has come to be known as “big data.”

There was a tremendous amount of customized research for the event; it’s a big topic, so to speak. After that, I ended up focusing my upcoming May CAMagazine column on some of the ideas and concepts that I covered.

Cashing in on Big Data
CAMagazine, May 2012 

By analyzing and tying together massive amounts of information, we can change the way we conduct business, manage healthcare, work in the world of agriculture or manage energy consumption.

Have you ever noticed how, all of a sudden, a new phrase enters our lexicon and becomes the next big thing? So it is with “big data.” If you

haven’t heard this term yet, you will. What is it?

By analyzing and tying together massive amounts of information, we can change the way we conduct busi- ness, manage healthcare, work in the world of agriculture or manage energy consumption.

As everything around us plugs into the Internet — thermostats, fridges, washers, dryers, industrial HVAC equipment — we are generating huge amounts of information. Companies can examine this information through powerful analytical software to look for unique patterns and insight, which might then help to drive key business decisions.

Consider the energy industry, for example. The NEST thermostat, created by one of the original iPad designers, can recognize you when you walk in the room and adjust the heat to your favourite temperature. It’s also plugged into the Internet — and that’s where the potential for big data comes in.

Imagine the possibilities for an energy company to easily poll how millions of customers are using energy through such thermostats — and to then link that data with a deep analysis of upcoming weather patterns. Suddenly, it can predict and manage upcoming spikes in energy consumption, which could have a direct impact on the purchase of natural gas or other sources of energy. Through this analysis, it can do a far better job of managing its costs.

IBM expects big data to be a large driver of future growth, noting that “there are upwards of a trillion inter- connected and intelligent objects and organisms .. all of this is generating vast stores of information. It is estimated that there will be 44 times as much data and content coming over the next decade …reaching 35 zettabytes in 2020. A zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21 zeros.”

In the field of agriculture, people have been talking for years about the concept of “precision agriculture.” A farmer would use a system which knows, for each particular square yard of ground, how much fertilizer and seed to apply, based on real-time data insight and GPS information.

That world is arriving pretty quickly. Kenna, a data analytics firm in Mississauga, Ont., has put together a system which cross references customer purchase data to weather patterns to real-time tractor position based on GPS to do just that, with the goal of helping a farmer get the best yield possible.

Las Vegas is said to be using the idea of deep analytical research to offer a free lunch to a slot payer who is marginally closer to a payout — thereby reducing it’s risk.

Of course, there are big opportunities in big data. The data and analytics market is already worth an estimated $64 billion according to global management consultants McKinsey & Co. The firm also predicts there will be a shortfall of 140,000 to 190,000 graduates with deep analytical talent by 2018. Similarly, a survey by data giant EMC suggests that 65% of data professionals expect a significant shortage in “big data” skills expertise in just five years.

Accountants are, of course, supposed to be the folks with deep analytical insight. Do we have the capability to step up to the big opportunity that is unfolding here?

I do a tremendous number of keynotes in the agricultural sector — from groups such as the Texas Cattlemen’s Association to the Mid-America Crop Protection Association to the US Farm Credit Co-op. As I note on my agriculture trends page, I “spent so much time customizing the presentation for one agricultural conference that at the conclusion, one fellow came up and asked him how long I had been a farmer!

With that in mind, I just got off the phone from a planning conversation for an upcoming agricultural keynote for the Grain Farmers of Ontario annual conference occurring this March.

I was speaking about generational turnover on the farm, the rapid emergence of new agricultural methodologies, and the impact of a significant acceleration in the science of agriculture.

Which brought me to mention an article I wrote way back in 2004, “I found the future of manure!” for Profit Magazine. Though a bit dated, it still helps to put in perspective some very critical and important trends — no matter what line of business you happen to be in.

What led to the article was that during my research, I discovered that a new career had emerged in this sector – professional manure managers. Heck, they even have their own magazine, Manure Managerhttp://www.manuremanager.com/

Can you apply the rules of “I found the future in manure” to your particular industry? Probably!

Believe it or not, manure can teach us a great deal about the future of business.” I wrote that back in 2004, and I still think it holds truth today!

Here’s the article!


I saw the future in manure!
Believe it or not, manure can teach us a great deal about the future of business
Profit Magazine
December 2004 

This past summer, I was invited to speak at a western agricultural company’s annual golf day. In attendance were several hundred farmers, their families and various folks from the local area, in a small town about 100 miles from the nearest city. It was about as rural as you could get.

I was asked to address “what comes next” in the world of agriculture, so I looked into the unique challenges facing agriculture today, as well as the trends that will impact the industry over the next five to twenty years.

While doing my research, I came across the phrase “manure management.” That was a new one! And the deeper I dug — so to speak — the more I came to realize that, believe it or not, we can learn a great deal about the future by looking at what is going on with manure. These are the lessons I learned from manure:

1. Accept that times are changing: We live in a time when change is taking place faster than ever, and is speeding up. The mere fact that there’s a profession of people known as “manure managers” shows we’re entering a world that will be far more complex. Recognizing that fact is step one to succeeding in the future.

2. Science is making waves : Manure managers exist because there’s a lot of innovation and R&D occurring with manure. For example, one of the biggest manure management problems involves what’s known as “pit crust.” As the name suggests, it’s the top layer of the manure in the pit, and it gets rather hard and crusty, leading to flies and rodents, not to mention enhanced smell problems.

Rapid evolution in biogenetics is helping to deal with the problem. Scientists determined that most of the pit crust comes from the outer shell of the corn that is fed to the animals, so they developed a specialized bio-enzyme that breaks down the shell during digestion, leading to a thinner crust. The result: fewer rodents and flies, less potential for disease and a big, positive environmental impact.

That’s but one example of how rapid scientific advance is causing change. Look into any industry, and you can see the emergence of all kinds of rapid innovation and new developments. Expect that trend to become more pronounced and even faster over time.

3. Hyper specialization will soon be standard : Given that there is so much new stuff going on, the typical farmer might not learn of the latest advances in manure management. That’s where the manure manager comes in — individuals who possess the specialized knowledge of what’s out there and what can be done with it. They are partners in the process, helping the farmers cope with the rapid change swirling around them.

A typical farmer can no longer be expected to know everything there is to know about farming today. They must call in outside expertise to help them deal with every type of complex issue, of which manure management is only one. And this is a trend true across the economy.

There is now so much new knowledge emerging that every profession and career is fragmenting into dozens of sub-specialties. No one person can be expected to master everything anymore.

4. A specialized partner can save you money : Manure managers are experts in providing farmers with the opportunity for revenue enhancement through the more intelligent application of manure on the fields. In one area in the U.S. Midwest, experts have been working with local farmers to undertake detailed soil and yield analysis to determine the best application rates for future plantings. The returns have been significant — one family farm saw a $19 increase in revenue yield per acre through such efforts. That might seem like a small number until you multiply it by 2,000 acres, for a net result of $38,000 — a big revenue improvement for a family farm operation.

That’s but one small example of how a specialized partner, dealing with specialized knowledge, can help you with your business. As the body of knowledge that surrounds us grows, there are all kinds of innovative, new and challenging ways to run the business better .

5. The future will be increasingly complex : Manure provides a useful signupst to a world that is going to involve a lot more change, specialization and complexity. Everything we know – the jobs in which we work, the professions in which we’ve been trained, the skills we possess, the marketplace in which we sell our products, the industry in which we work and the knowledge that we’re expected to master—will be extremely different tomorrow.

The fact that there exists in the world a group of people who are proud to be recognized as manure managers tells us a lot about the complexity of our future. Figuring out how to deal with such complexities will become the essence for innovative thinking, and from that, our future success.

Earlier this month, I was down in Amarillo, Texas, where I was the opening keynote speaker for Day 2 of the annual conference of the Texas Cattlefeeders Association.

Jim Carroll - "I'm willing to admit that it was the first time I've ever had audience members getting their boots shined before my keynote address! But talk about an audience focused on innovation!"

The event was lined as the result of another keynote I did in Sonoma County, California last April, where I spoke to a  gathering that included “what were probably the top 100 cattle, stockyard and feedlot operators in the US.” I reported on that event in a post, “Agriculture 2020: Innovation, growth & opportunity.”

The common theme to both of these keynotes? There is massive, significant opportunity for global growth in the agricultural sector. While there might be a lot of short term volatility due to the daily twists and turns with the global economy, one undeniable fact remains: global food production has to double over the next several decades to keep up with population growth and increasing food intake, particularly within emerging economies. I’ve found with both of these audiences that there is a relentless sense of optimism, and certainly a pretty significant openness to new ideas and opportunities for innovation. Read the post about “agriculture 2020″ and you’ll get a sense of the reasons for their optimism.

That’s why I was fascinated to come across an article (“Future of ag is all about refrigerators“) that appeared in the Farm & Dairy Blog back in October (its the official for the well known Farm & Dairy Newspaper) that covered  my thinking and message in a nutshell:

We still face a global food market — a world population that stands at 6.9 billion and could reach 7 billion by the end of October.

If those numbers make your head spin and you really feel disconnected from that reality, think about refrigerators instead.

Carroll reminds us, as other have, that the growing population also has a growing segment with greater income, and they will eat more meat. He cites figures that estimate per capita meat consumption growth from 2000 to 2030 of 49 percent in China, 79 percent in India, and 22 percent in Brazil, for example.

And in India, the number one consumer product on an individual’s wish list is a television.

Number two? A refrigerator.

“Right now, refrigerators have only a 13 percent market penetration,” Carroll wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

“Talk about opportunities for growth.

 Sometimes the easiest way to think about future trends is to forget all the fancy analysis, detailed summaries, and simply concentrate on one simple statistic and trend. Most people in the world don’t have a refrigerator. Many want to have one. That fact alone is going to drive agriculture forward at a furious pace.

Farm & Dairy wasn’t the only one to pick up on this theme: over at The Social Silo (“Agriculture gets wired”), an article appeared, “Five Farm Things to Chew On This Week“, which offered up some “food for thought” for those in the agriculture sector.

Their last point? Refrigerators!

We’ve heard so much about world population growth and “who will feed the world,” that we’ve actually become a little distanced from that conversation. But the reality is this: As more people worldwide increase their income and class standing, they will eat more meat. In India, the number one item on wish lists is a television. The second wish? No, not a car, but a refrigerator, says futurist Jim Carroll. “Right now, refrigerators have only a 13 percent market penetration. Talk about opportunities for growth,” Carroll wrote in his blog last spring.

Carroll predicts per capita meat consumption growth from 2000 to 2030 will be 49 percent in China, 79 percent in India, and 22 percent in Brazil.

That alone should give you something to chew on.

Of course, agricultural producers have to balance the reality of growth with innovation in methods involving production, due to growing concerns about sustainability, safety and quality. The Farm & Dairy article went on to observe this issue around innovation.

We’re going to need more food, but we’re going to have to produce it more sustainably. That will take innovation, new ways of thinking, and new ways of farming.

Carroll predicts we’ll see more change on the farm in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the last 50, and he might be right. Today’s farmer has reinvented himself at least once in his lifetime, and will have to be ready to reinvent his farm again.

Ag entrepreneurs will flourish. The opportunity is there for the future of agriculture. Just open the refrigerator.

I must admit, it certainly is a thrill to work with folks throughout the agriculture sector — I do find this to be one of the most innovative sectors of the population. That might come as a surpass to many people, who often view farmers and ranchers as folks who are stuck in tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth — the sector has come to accept innovation as a core virtue for years.

Indeed, I wrote about this way back in 2005, when i was out there talking to the theme, “I Found the Future in Manure: How to Capitalize on the Rapid Evolution of Science”. Those series of keynotes were based on the very theme of innovation that I was discovering throughout the agriculture sector in the early part of 2000-2001. I even ended up writing an article that made it into my Ready, Set, Done book, called “I found the future in manure!”

One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that farmers and ranchers and those who support theme can be some of the most innovative people on the planet. Here’s a video clip from a keynote to a US Military conference in Dallas — yes, the military — and I’m describing to them the unique innovation insight that can be learned from farmers.

 If you want to master innovation — then think about refrigerators, and think like a farmer!

More information:

  • Farm & Dairy: The future of ag is in refrigerators 
  • Agriculture 2020: Innovation, opportunity and growth 
  • Farm Progress Magazine: Texas Cattlefeeders will Beef Up in Amarillo 
  • Food industry trends 2011: Report from a keynote 
  • Blog post: I found the future in manure 
  • 2004 article: “I found the future in manure!” 

 

 

 

I found myself in Sonoma County, California earlier this week; I was the opening speaker for a small corporate conference that featured what were probably the top 100 cattle, stockyard and feedlot operators in the US.

This was a pretty heavy duty event, so to speak, with some individuals representing ranches with upwards of 30,000 to 50,000 head of cattle. We’re talking billion-dollar operations here. A very exclusive group – as noted in the invitation, the sponsors ” have partnered to create an advanced leadership development curriculum entitled the 4C Summit – an experience that will be unlike any other ever offered in animal agriculture.”

My role? To encourage this group to think about future trends in the world of agriculture and food production; opportunities for innovation; and how to live out on the edge in terms of thinking about big ideas.

What the client DIDN’t want was what he found  from a lot of other innovation speakers he spoke to, who seemed to offer up the same refrain: “Plug into Twitter, get onto Facebook, get social, and you’ve mastered innovation!”

Uggh. Yah, right! Real innovation comes from studying obvious future trends, and aligning yourself to those trends to seize opportunity and achieve growth.

So it was a thrill to speak to such an exclusive group — and I had a lot of ground to cover! First off, recognizing that this could be a dispirited crowd given past trends — they could be in a mindset that might not encourage innovative thinking.

After all, as I pointed out, they’ve suffered from:

  • stagnant growth (6.4% over 25 years) while imports have tripled
  • a continuing drop in the number of feedlots
  • consolidation of buyers (top 4 meatpackers control 80% of market from 36% in 1980), which give them fewer options
  • an overall decline in consumption in the US (94.3 lbs per capita to 59.1lbs from 1976 to today….)

What’s the result of these trends, and the impact of the recent recession? Aggressive indecision — a mindset that I’ve talked about on this blog for a long time.

“Many ranchers are wary of investing in expanding their herds, even with exports rising and prices climbing, because “they’re uncertain about the future,” said Gregg Doud, chief economist at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which represents ranchers and feedlots.” Where’s the Beef: Food Inflation Fears, Wall Street Journal, August 2010

Yet given this uncertainty, what are the trends that drive the opportunity for innovation? I covered many; here’s a few.

1. There is massive, significant opportunity for global growth.

The statistics are simple and clear:

  • the world’s population will increase 47%, to 8.9 billion, by 2050
  • a simple fact: global agriculture production must double to sustain growth
  • a stark reality: little new arable land will come to play a role in that production

In other words, existing producers will have to double production to keep up with global demand.

Clearly, a substantial number of people are entering the global middle class through the next decade; as noted by McKinsey: “Almost a billion new consumers will enter the global marketplace in the next decade …. with an income level that allows spending on discretionary goods.

As this transition to middle class occurs, entire societies will transition to a diet that involves more consumption of meat. In India, the #1 “aspirational purchase” is a television. What do you think is #2? If you said a car, you are wrong — it’s a refrigerator! And right now, refrigerators have only a 13% market penetration! Talk about opportunities for growth.

The opportunity is clear – per capita meat consumption growth from 2000 to 2030 will be 49% in China, 79% in India, and 22% in Brazil.

2. There are significant long term trends that will drive global agricultural innovation and opportunity, if approached from the right perspective

I also covered four key trends that will have a huge impact on agriculture from every single perspective:

  • food security becomes a foremost “national interest” agenda
  • significant international agricultural investments
  • sustainability practices moves to the forefront of customer agenda
  • food quality and safety ratings become commonplace

On the first issue — we are going to witness many nation states work fast to ensure the security of their food supply. We are seeing it happen now with China, in order that it can ensure a sustainable reliable supply of food for its population in the future. How big an issue this is this?

“Food security will be the greatest challenge to civilization this century, with shortages leading to higher prices, political instability and mass migration, warn scientists, farmers and academics.” Looming food crisis showing on our shelves Sunday Age, April 2011

The issue of food security leads to the second big trend, and that is significant international agricultural investments. Quite simply, there’s a lot of investment money sloshing around involving agriculture.

“The World Bank reported this month that the number of large-scale farmland deals in 2009 amounted to about 45 million hectares, compared with an average of less than 4 million hectares each year from 1998 through 2008.” Investors bet the farm, Los Angeles Times, September 2010

Even Harvard University is getting into the act,  with a significant investment into one of the biggest ranches in New Zealand — the Big Sky Dairy Farm in Central Otago. (New Zealand Herald, June 2010)
These two trends are unfolding at the same time that sustainability practices moves to the forefront of customer agenda. Consider a very unique partnership between some “unlikely allies” that involve sustainable business practices in agriculture. This is going to affect EVERYONE in the industry:

“Food manufacturers, retailers and WWF are joining forces to address how to feed the world’s population, writes Paul Myers. When the World Wildlife Fund engages the ideologically distant interests of the cattle industry, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to discuss global food production, it’s clear something is cooking…..Unlikely alliance, Sydney Morning Herald, February 2011

What is cooking is an effort by these organizations to move to sustainability practices to the forefront, in order to respond to consumer demand. And what the sustainability trend leads to is a world in which food quality and safety ratings become commonplace.

Wal-Mart, which sells more than 20 per cent of all US groceries, is developing an eco-labelling program that will give a green rating to all items sold in its 7500 stores worldwide…. Unlikely alliance, Sydney Morning Herald, February 2011

This will trickle right down to the farm and the ranch: agriculture is going to have to demonstrate sustainability at a micro-level:

“A group of cattle producers in Gippsland, Victoria, is marketing beef sourced from properties with independently audited environmental management systems that comply with the international ISO 14001 standard. Their “enviromeat beef”, sourced from 15 suppliers, is thought to be the first labelled food product backed by an environmental management system in Australia.” Unlikely alliance, Sydney Morning Herald, February 2011

Many farmers and ranchers might view these issues as a challenge, and a threat. But as I emphasized in my keynote, “Some people see a trend and see a threat. Others see opportunity!” The key innovation opportunity is now to work within these new realities in order to stay ahead of what the customer demands!

3. Ranchers need to think big! There are huge transformative opportunities!

In my keynotes, I always try and challenge the team to adapt to the mindset of Bill Gates, who observed that “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

I always pull out a number of examples of some of the big, bold, whacky innovative thinking that is occurring in any particular industry.

I’ve long observed that one of the key global economic drivers is that a lot of people are spending a lot of time solving the big problems faced by the industrialized world. In my “Where’s the Growth” trends document, I make the observation:  “What’s likely to lead us out of this recession? A combination of bold goals on energy and the environment, significant investment in health care to fix a system that is set for absolutely massive challenges, combined with high-velocity innovation in all three sectors.”

In the spirit of that observation, think about this report!

America’s dairy farmers could soon find themselves in the computer business, with the manure from their cows possibly powering the vast data centers of companies like Google and Microsoft…..With the right skills, a dairy farmer could rent out land and power to technology companies and recoup an investment in the waste-to-fuel systems within two years, Hewlett-Packard engineers say in a research paper to be made public on Wednesday…According to H.P.’s calculations, 10,000 cows could fuel a one-megawatt data center, which would be the equivalent of a small computing center used by a bank.

”The cows will never replace the hydroelectric power used by a lot of these data centers,” Mr. Kanellos said. ”But there is interest in biogas, and this presents another way to make manure pay.”“One Moos and One Hums, But the Could Help Power Google”, New York Times, May 2010

Whacky? Crazy? Who is to say! I actually wrote about this opportunity back in 2004 when I penned my “I found the future in manure” article!

4. Innovators concentrate on all kinds of innovation opportunities

I’ve always stressed that people can challenge themselves to innovate by focusing on 3 key questions; what can we do to run the business better, grow the business, and transform the business.

In that context, for these ranchers, there’s plenty of innovation opportunity. When it comes to running the business better, there is a massive opportunity for the continued deployment of technology to better manage the herrd, deal with food safety and tracability issues, manage the health of the herd; the list is endless! Growth of the business? Consider the opportunities that come about with direct-to-consumer relationships as our world of connectivity continues to expand. Transform the business?  Change the business model! One Australian group was faced with the challenge of getting fresh meat to Indonesia — and so they built the MC Becrux — basically a floating stockyard for thousands of head of cattle! (I admit, to go forward this will have to be done to fit into the sustainability model….)

5. Innovators ride accelarating rates of change

Quite simply, there’s a lot of scientific driven innovation in the agricultural sector. One conference I spoke at noted that we are seeing a lot of “advances in genomics, combinatorial chemistry, high throughput screening, advanced formulation, environmental science and toxicology, precision breeding, crop transformation, nanotechnology, synthetic biology and bio-informatics are tools that will transform the industry.”

It couldn’t be said better. Even the field of animal genomics is evolving at a furious pace — the same trend in which Moore’s law is driving down the cost of sequencing the human gene, so too it is with animal genetics, which has a big potential impact on the quality of future production.

6. Innovators adapt to accelerating generational change

Perhaps the biggest trend occurring in agriculture today is that we are seeing a generational turnover. As the family farm and industrial ranch transition from the baby boomer to today’s 25-30 year, there will be more rapid ingestion of new technologies. Quite simply, we are going to witness more change on the farm and ranch in the next ten years than we have seen in the last 50! That’s providing even yet more opportunity for innovation.

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As always, I had a lot of interaction with the audience through Q&A, and live text message polling. I walked through the innovation killer attitudes that I often talk about, and asked the audience what they thought they were most guilty of. Here’s what they had to say!

Overall, it was a great day, a great keynote, with a lot of the unique research and background that I take on for this type of assignment!

 

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