A growing population that will likely reach more than 9 billion people by 2050 puts global pressure on food demand, said Lance Donny, founder and CEO of OnFarm. Technology is the next frontier to meet that demand.
Global middle class incomes will shift significantly in the coming decades, said Donny, with India and China increasing from 30 percent of the global middle class to 64 percent. Global diets are also changing, with people spending more money on produce, meat and dairy, all of which put tremendous pressure on farmers. Farmers will likely be able to grow things in different, more efficient and more effective ways because they’re able to employ information systems, he said.
Fundamental technology challenges include:
- What are the right technology investments?
- Is there a clear value proposition?
- Is it just data, or better knowledge?
- Does it help make better decisions?
- Does it make the farmer a data analyst?
The Internet of Everything has changed other industries, and it will change farming, Donny said. Any device that has a connection to the Internet and can send or receive data makes up the Internet of Everything.
For example, in rethinking the tractor, it moves from existing solely as a product to existing as a platform. That evolution includes going from product to smart product, to smart, connected product, to product system, to tractor as a platform, with the addition of gauges, sending the information from that gauge back to an information center, to adding harvesters, planters and tillers, and finally becoming a tool that not only delivers data but also pulls other data back to that tractor’s dashboard and turning it into a platform for action.
The industry is moving very quickly in that direction, Donny said.
As far as how to get started, Donny suggests to avoid getting overwhelmed by picking one or two of your most important problems, opportunities to reduce risk or to improve growth. Then, realize those technology changes, commit to relevance, and think long-term.
“Make sure things are developed correctly, and deployed correctly,” he said. “That process will support you.”
Along with technology, there is a growing consumer appetite for knowing more about the food system, said Dr. Alexandra Grygorczyk, research scientist, consumer insights, Vineland Research and Innovation Center.
The Center for Food Integrity built a trust model, and shared values are three to five times more important for building trust than competence, Grygorczyk said.
“Even if you’re an expert on a topic, it doesn’t matter unless you can show you share the same values,” she said.
A scientist’s perspective on risk and a consumer’s perspective on risk vary greatly. For example, scientists know there is no such thing as zero risk. Consumers are wondering whether the risks and benefits fairly distributed, whether the risks are within their control, whether the product is familiar or exotic, whether the producer has a track record of secrecy, and whether the risk is necessary and unavoidable.
For example, comparing caffeine and glyphosate (RoundUp), caffeine is technically far more deadly because it takes far less to overdose. However, it is consumed at a much higher rate. From a scientific perspective, glyphosate is far less dangerous for humans to consume, said Grygorczyk.
“With caffeine, the risks and benefits are more fairly distributed,” she said. “Consumers also benefit because they get to have their caffeine kick in the morning. They don’t get benefits from glyphosate; the benefit is for the producer.”
Consumers who are more accepting of food technology tend to be younger and male. There is a less clear trend for other demographics, and personality is more important than demographics.
The most important recommendation Grygorczyk offered is transparency.
“Listen first, and answer the questions being asked,” she said, adding that offering effortless information access for the consumer, addressing both risks and benefits, demonstrating compromise and using consumer-friendly communication are key.
Also, not all safety statements are equal. Talking about safety through the history of use – this method has been used for over 90 years and contributed to developing fruits and vegetables that have been in grocery stores for decades – is far more impactful than talking about safety advancements through technology.
Become aware of what is (or is not) consumer language in your sector, Grygorczyk said. As subject-matter experts, it’s easy to forget what’s common knowledge.