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There was an interesting article in the New York Times on Feb 18: “Careers: ‘Board Doctors,’ to Supervise the Supervisors — More companies bring in experts to scrutinize effectiveness of directors, creating a growth business.” (read the article)

board_of_directors

Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world — Jim Carroll

The article opens with the observation: “Amid unprecedented pressure from investors, more boards are tapping outside experts so they can monitor management better and clean their own house. The legion of advisers — which some dub “board doctors” — scrutinize boards’ inner workings and prescribe cures for such ills as an entrenched chief executive, 800-page briefing books, or even a director who plays Sudoku during management presentations. The experts often enable board members to make tough choices they are too squeamish to do on their own.”

Essentially, the gist of the article boiled down to three key points:

  • boards are becoming less effective at making ‘hard decisions’
  • the result is a trend in which there is more outside (hired) scrutiny of the effectiveness of board performance
  • the scrutiny adds in assessment of the effectiveness of individual board members

In an amusing point, the article comments on one director who was known to regularly play Sudoku during board meetings.

The article is a good read, and a great outline of some of the problems facing the world of corporate governance today. But from my perspective, it missed a key point that I’ve been raising in many of my sessions with Boards through the years — most boards are not structured to deal with issues of future strategic direction.

If you understand how boards work, there are two key issues:

  • it’s a very insular club ; still, globally, very much an ‘old boys network’ (although gender diversity is a key issue that many national Director associations are working hard to solve)
  • the board ‘skills matrix’ — that is, the type of people that boards seek to recruit — generally consists of finance/accounting; legal; executive compensation; IT; human resources; and specific industry experience. Few seem to have expanded their matrix to include “future strategic insight.”

A few years ago, I thought it might be interesting to apply my skill of anticipating and outlining future trends by actively seeking involvement in a few boards. I took a director education course at the University of Rotman. It was a fascinating world to immerse myself in. Sadly, since then, I’ve had few opportunities (probably, to be honest, because I don’t network with the board world as most other folks do.)

What’s the looming crisis? I outlined this back in a post in 2007, “The Future of Governance.” Essentially, there are numerous boards who do not take on the responsibility of actively and regularly assessing trends for future threats and opportunities, and include this assessment in their evaluation of the effectivness of the CEO (which is one of their key responsibilities.)

I’ll repost the 2007 post in fulll below; it still makes what I believe is a useful and powerful read.

I’m not sure much has changed since I wrote it; consider, for example, the recent security/hacking issues with Sony. Should they not have had a high level Board member who would be asking tough questions as to what structure the CEO had in place to deal with an obvious looming security infrastructure challenge. You can lay the Sony debacle at the door of the CEO. You can also lay blame directly against the Board of Directors.

Have a look at the article, and then consider if the Board you participate on has a significant ‘future oriented challenge.’

—–

I was in Colorado Springs yesterday, as the opening keynote of the Leadership Institute for Directors for FCCServices — they’re the business services arm of the US federal Farm Credit System.

In attendance were members of the Boards of Directors for a wide variety of state and community farm credit co-ops; these folks are the backbone of the US farm lending infrastructure. The Directors are local farmers, community leaders and business executives, and hence, need to be aware of the trends impacting the local and global agricultural industries, so that they can plan accordingly, assess risk, and make sound business decisions with respect to their co-ops.

My keynote took a look at “what comes next in the agricultural sector” – it’s one of many talks I do within the industry. And agriculture is certainly subject to high velocity change: there’s rapid evolution in science (bio-crops); new markets (bio-fuel) ; rapidly changing skills; new direct to consumer market opportunities; globalization (current food production must double in the next 30 years to keep up with global population growth.) All of which could spell opportunity if approached correctly — or turmoil and challenge if ignored.

The intent of the talk — and the overall theme of the leadership conference — was to ensure that these folks have the insight to direct their organizations into the future. That’s an important and critical role for Boards; and FCC Services is an example of an organization that has made sure that the “future” is closely linked to the issue of “governance.”

I think there are too many organizations that don’t do this. Sadly, with all the current focus on “compliance,” I’ve come to believe that there is a critical lack of future planning on many other corporate boards around the world. The result is that potential risks are often ignored; then things go wrong; then the company gets sued for significant sums of money. Is this Board negligence? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it!

Here’s an example: years ago, I wrote an article indicating that one of the critical CEO/Board level issues that must be addressed had to do with network security; certainly, everyone knows that organizations should properly secure their information assets. Yet in the article, I suggested that I believe that many Boards aren’t dealing with the issue, and that it was an area ripe for future exposure, noting that: “If I were a tort lawyer, I’d be licking my lips in anticipation of the opportunities to come in the next few years.”

Boards and CEO’s should ensure — as they are required to do with financial controls — that the information assets of the organization are properly locked down. They must understand obvious future trends, and ensure that management has planned accordingly. I strongly believe this to be the next wave in Board responsibility.

Do many Boards of Directors ensure that the organization is properly preparing for the rapidity of trends? Not many. Witness the shenanigans with the TJX Group, which had its corporate network hacked and millions of credit card numbers stolen. (The company runs HomeGoods, Marshalls, A.J. Wright, Bob’s Stores and The Maxx stores; in Canada the chain consists of Winners and HomeSense.) Now comes news that a group of banks want to sue the company with respect to the issue.

I can only imagine the questions that the Board of TJX is now asking!

Currently, much of the focus of board governance has to do with “compliance” — how well are boards, and the companies they are responsible for, dealing with the new realities of the post-Enron era.

I believe that within the next decade, we will see Board responsibility quickly evolve into a new and much more complex era than simply making sure that “i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.’ All we need are a few savvy lawyers to launch a few negligence suits against a few public companies, alleging that a Board failed to develop a plan for and respond to obvious future trends.

It’s a trend worth watching.

A few weeks ago, I was the closing keynote speaker for Potato Expo 2015 in Orlando, with a talk titled “Big Trends in Agriculture: What Ag Will Look Like in 2045.” It was quite a bit of fun, and drew a SRO audience.

2015 jan potato expo-2

“Carroll considers agricultural people to be some of the most innovative, tech savvy, people in the world. Carroll said that the general public remains uninformed about current agricultural practices. He said that many people continue to view farming from the sepia-toned photos of the 1940s and 1950s.”

Prior to the event, I was interviewed by Spudman Magazine; they ran an article in the daily show newspaper on day 2.  It’s a good summary of my thoughts on the agricultural sector. I did cover a lot in terms of trends for agriculture in the future; I’m working to get a video of my keynote. But for now, you might enjoy reading the article.

Article: Going fast? The Future Will Be Faster
By Bill Schaefer, SpudMan Magazine

You have to be fast to succeed in today’s business climate, and you’re going to have to be even faster to succeed in the future.

That’s the message Jim Carroll is bringing to his presentation at today’s POTATO EXPO.

“My message for the folks in the room is, ‘look there is still a lot more change yet to come and your success is going to come from your ability to ingest that change,’” Carroll said.

“The key thing is the rate of change is accelerating, it’s getting faster, so you’re going to have to innovate faster. You’re going to have to pursue those new ideas faster. You’re going to have to try things faster. You’re going to have to keep an open mind faster,” he said in a rapid, staccato beat.
Carroll is an author, columnist and consultant, with a focus on linking future trends to innovation and creativity. He is based in Toronto,

He is the author of, “The Future Belongs to Those Who are Fast”, “Ready, Set Done: How to Innovate When Faster is the New Fast” and “What I Learned from Frogs in Texas: Saving Your Skin With Forward Thinking Innovation.”

Carroll considers agricultural people to be some of the most innovative, tech savvy, people in the world.

Carroll said that the general public remains uninformed about current agricultural practices. He said that many people continue to view farming from the sepia-toned photos of the 1940s and 1950s.

“They don’t realize how many technological and scientific advances have occurred,” Carroll said.

With world population currently estimated at 7.3 billion and projected to be 9.6 billion in 2050 and the increasing demand for better diets in China and India, there’s huge opportunities for those willing to pursue them, Carroll said.

“Global food production has to double to keep up with population, that’s a given. There’s little new arable land,” he said.

He emphasized that while the farming community has readily incorporated advances such as GPS steering and mobile apps to control irrigation pivots and storage sheds, the changes are coming at an ever faster pace and farmers are going to have to keep up.

“I know I’m talking to a very sophisticated, very innovative audience,” Carroll said in anticipation of his appearance at the POTATO EXPO. “But the key message is ‘look, you think you’ve dealt with change so far? Wait until you see what’s coming.’”

Carroll maintains that part of the formula for success is to maintain a degree of agility when it comes to making decisions at a time of transition in consumer demand.

“New consumer food trends now emerge faster than ever before,” he said. “If you’re anywhere in the food market, you’ve got to be able to respond very quickly.”

The days of having two or three years to roll out a new product can be found in the pay-phone booth in front of the video rental store.

“You have to have a team that is nimble and can react fast and understand and predict those trends as they’re unfolding,” Carroll said.

Carroll said that there’s a quote he often uses at conferences to distill his message . “Some people see a trend and see a threat. Innovators see the same trend and see an opportunity and that’s where you’ve got to be as a producer,” he said.

So I was on the phone today with the CEO of a major global organization headquartered in Canada. I’ll be opening a leadership meeting for the company in early 2013, and this was a call to begin planning for the structure of my talk.

During the call, comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada about the US economic relationship came up. Clearly, this is a country that is seeing it’s share of challenge due to fast-paced challenges in it’s “special relationship” with the US.

I mentioned to the CEO that  as far back as 2009, I was already predicting that Canada would likely have challenges in selling it’s oil in the future into the US market. And many other challenges! And that it would have to re-orient its economy further away from the US and take on much more of a global view!

This was plainly evident to me back then — and look where things are today. What are serious people and politicians and everyday folk in Canada suddenly talking about that no one really took seriously just a year ago?“…a Pacific energy pipeline….”  “…. aligning more natural resources and commodities with long term Asian contracts….”    “…… a serious free trade relationship with Europe that goes beyond NAFTA.”

With that in mind, I just dug out an old post I wrote way back in 2009 that was written as a bit of a joke at the time — surmising that Canada would see many reasons to reorient it’s global economy in the future. It’s a press release written very much tongue-in-cheek. It was briefly posted to my blog. (I removed it after a short time, since I thought that many people might find it offensive. But back then, it was covered in Bourque.org and a few other breaking-Canadian-news blogs….)

I now find it remarkably prescient, though some of it is still very clearly written for fun. For example, the border wall!


Canada announces end of economic relationship with US, & a bold new strategy to 2020

Ottawa, May 14, 2009

The country of Canada today announced the end of its centuries long relationship with the United States, and a bold new seven-point “Canada Transformed!” strategy that will re-orient its economic, cultural, societal values and innovation engine towards the world economy of 2020.

“It has come to the point that we can no longer rely on the United States as a reliable economic partner,” stated Canada at a news conference. “It is time that we adopt a bold new strategy that will align our economy away from the US, and towards the growth economies of the 21st century in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As well, we will immediately begin working to enhance our long standing relationships with reliable partner nations in Europe.”

The massive scope of the plan was not lost on Canada in the emotional conference. “We aim to reduce our role of being the largest trading partner with the United States, to becoming a marginal partner at best. We believe that this is the only right way forward.”

Bold new thinking is required Canada spoke bluntly at the news conference of the need for bold new thinking. “Our relationship with the US is one that has become, through no fault of our own, increasingly abusive. We’re honest, faithful, and do our part to provide to the relationship. We have been the largest trading partner to the United States for over a century. And yet, in return, we find ourselves taking on an increasing amount of abuse, neglect, and ever more hostile actions. We’re sad that it must come to an end, but we believe that it is time.”

Canada cited a long list of complaints and grievances, ranging from ongoing trade disputes, “downright hostile treatment” of Canadian citizens by US border guards, and increasingly aggressive use of a “Buy America” policy by state and local governments in the US — despite a promise in Ottawa by President Barak Obama that he did not believe protectionism was the right way forward.

Canada Transformed!

At the press conference, Canada announced a significant 10 year, 7 point plan, branded “Canada Transformed!”, that will re-orient it’s economy away from the United States to the AEA (Asia, Europe and Africa) markets, by the 2020, with a number of key goals:

  •  Energy & oil: Canada will invest in a massive infrastructure project that will allow it to deliver the bulk of it’s significant energy/oil resources to Asia, Europe and Africa within 5-7 years. The infrastructure project will consist of a number of significant pipeline projects that will direct Canadian oil, natural gas and other energy sources to east and west coast ports, as well as shipping and marine infrastructure, that will provide for a “ocean railway of energy” destined to the AEA countries.”Today, Canada is the largest supplier of energy to the United States. By 2020, Canada aims to provide almost no energy to the US,” noted Canada at the news conference. “We wish them well in their efforts to solve their energy crisis. We do not intend to help them any further.”
  • Food & agriculture: Global food production must double to meet world population growth, and Canadian grain, beef, pork and other producers will work to achieve an AEA target market of 90% by 2020. “Quite simply, the rest of the world beyond the US needs a stable, reliable food supplier, and Canada intends to become the leading global brand in that regard.”
  • Resources: Canada will seek investment from major Asian and mid-East sovereign wealth funds in an ambitious effort to re-orient the target markets for at least 80% of Canadian mineral commodities to AEA nations by 2015.”Quite simply, Canada has the natural resources — iron, nickel, copper, uranium and just every other type of metal — that the newly industrialized world in Asia needs. As we witness a continued declined in US economic power, particularly in the manufacturing sector, we must ensure that we pursue growth opportunities elsewhere in the world. As China re-industrializes with the economic recovery, we intend to be their partner of choice.
  • Manufacturing: Since the advent of the US-Canada free-trade agreement in 1994, Canada has shared in one of the modern world’s greatest economic successes — the highly integrated Canadian-US manufacturing network supply chain. However, the collapse of the US manufacturing sector, as well as continuous suffocation of the border flow of goods, it is clear that Canada must re-orient itself to the new realities of the 21st century.”A nation does not move forward suffering from the ongoing implementation of economic choke points,” noted Canada. “We will re-align ourselves to economies that believe the way forward is through intelligent, smart-border policies that encourage the free flow of goods and people; not a nation that has a border policy that is driven by  politics. We will immediately provide strong incentives for Canadian manufacturers to re-focus on Canadian markets, as well as the establishment of significant new markets in AEA countries. There are over 2 billion people in these markets, and but 280 million in the US.””Clearly, our future lies outside of North America, and we will align our manufacturing sector to this reality.
  • Immigration-based knowledge factories: Canada is the envy of other nations throughout the world for its’ open, welcoming culture towards new immigrants. It plans to build on this reputation by establishing itself as the world’s dominant source for high-level, specialized knowledge expertise in almost every single professional field.”We believe that we are entering the second era of off-shoring,” noted Canada, “with the next wave going far beyond customer support call centers. Nations around the world will need access to high level talent in the fields of medicine and health care, scientific research, agricultural and architectural skills, legal and professional services — and will seek to access that knowledge through the global communications networks that will dominate the economy of the 21st century” said Canada. “We will welcome global knowledge experts in every field of human endeavor to relocate to Canada, enjoy all the attributes that our nation has to offer, and provide their skills to a massive offshore groups of clients in AEA nations. In doing so, we will establish Canada as the global hub for the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Quite simply, Brand Canada will become the most widely recognized phase when it comes to the need for access to knowledge.”
  • Immediate border construction: Finally, Canada announced that it would immediately begin construction of border that would prevent unauthorized entry into Canada by US citizens. “We will immediately begin planning construction of a 4,500 mile physical border along our common frontier with the US,” noted Canada. “We increasingly view the US health care system to be in peril — within a decade, some US states will be devoting more than 60% of their GDP to health care. Clearly, many US citizens will plan to flee to Canada to take advantage of our world-class universal health care system. We must prevent this mass migration of Americans into Canada, and believe that significantly enhanced border structures are the only means of doing so.”

At the close of the news conference, Canada stated that it was taking these actions with reluctance, but with conviction that it was the right thing to do.

Nations have always achieved continued economic success by making bold leaps. We believe, given the continuing deterioration in our relationship with the US, and the ongoing and continued lack of respect that they provide to us, that it is time to move on.

Canada is the most resource rich, tolerant, energy abundant, agriculturally advanced, second largest country in the world, with a massive base of skills, energy, commodities, food, and capabilities. We intend to assert our place in the economy of the 21st century with a sense of pride, purpose, and clear direction,” said Canada at the conclusion of the press conference.

Besides that, we’re just plain nice,” said Canada, blushing, in a closing comment.

We are excited about our future, and believe that we have made the right decision at the right time for the right purpose. Canada Transformed! will see our nation emerge as one of the leading economies on the world stage by 2020, and we embark on this voyage with a sense of courage, enthusiasm, and certainty as to its’ impact.”

The United States was not immediately available for comment.

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!

 

  • 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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