From the Pacific Ocean to the fertile valleys and rich soils of the high desert, the beautifully rugged and serene landscapes that dominate much of our region are home to some of the hardest working farmers and ranchers you’ll find anywhere. Whether it’s fruits and vegetables, cattle or other crops, according to the forward thinkers at Oregon State University (OSU) and Washington State University (WSU), the future of agriculture is going to look a lot different than it did 50 years ago.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global population grows by 240,000 every day. By 2025, farmers will need to grow enough food to feed 8 billion people. That’s a lot of fruit, vegetables, meat, grains, and dairy.
For thousands of years, agriculture has fed the masses. We’ve gotten good at it, honestly. And while increasing the amount of food we grow and raise will be a challenge to overcome, technology, data, and business acumen will play a very big role in making farms and ranches more productive and profitable for farm families.
Equipment Goes High Tech
Manufacturers of tractors, combines, sprayers and more are helping the industry take leaps forward. Precision farming technology is already helping with harvests, fertilization, watering, and planting. New machines are integrating telematics, auto-guidance systems, and research data to grow bigger, better crops, and healthier, more productive livestock. Additionally, future machines will rely even more heavily on ever-increasing mountains of data.
Research Brings Bigger Bounty
Thanks to continuous streams of environmental data, drones, fiber-optics, and other sensors, farmers will someday have day-to-day information about their land, crops, and animals. According to environmental engineers at Oregon State University, data will be one of the biggest benefits for the future of ag.
The experts predict that future farms will stream data into models that will then use adaptive neural networks to help farmers make the best possible decisions. Educators and agriculture professionals like those at Washington State University agree.
WSU Professor Anna Warner foresees a future where farmers and ranchers will need to be business and computer savvy as well as farm smart. In an article from Washington State University, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Science News, she and her fellow educators are training the next generation of ranchers and farmers to work in a world where accurate data and computerized equipment work alongside real people.
A recent panel discussion at Oregon State University looked ahead to 2030. Those in attendance included young farmers and ranchers, as well as experienced professionals. Overwhelmingly, the outlook for ag was strong.
While labor was still seen as a possible issue in the future, automated planting, watering, and spraying could save thousands on supplies, fuel, and manpower. It’s hoped that this will give farmers more time to improvise when necessary, manage their workforce, sell globally, and compete.
Regulations and Requirements
As more people need to be fed and the world’s trade constraints crumble under the strain of economic progress, some experts contend that the real work of a farmer or rancher will be in navigating regulations and trade barriers.
Both OSU and WSU focus on natural resource policy and law to give tomorrow’s agriculture experts an edge in the global and local markets.
Understanding the Money Side of Agriculture
Farmers and ranchers, as well as educators training the next generation, know that agriculture is a business. Generations of families might work the same land, but if that land doesn’t reap a profit, everyone will be out of a job. Experts agree that it’s not just about growing the best crop, it’s about getting the best return from the investment.
Farms of the past could survive by the motto: grow it, sell it, and start again. But with limited resources and an ever-growing population, farming will need to become a profitable business – and not just for large farms and ranches. Technology and improvements will give small operations a shot at success as well.
The Nexus of Energy, Water and Agriculture Laboratory (NEWAg Lab) at Oregon State University is hard at work to address the needs of tomorrow’s ag industry. Through collaboration, education, and projects, the NEWAg Lab is studying and attempting to answer questions about our region’s energy and water supplies, which will impact the future of farming and agriculture throughout the Northwest.
Coastal Cares About the Future of Ag
Farming and ranching will always be a vital part of our social and economic fabric. Whether you live on a farm, were raised on one, or simply cherish the idea of working with the land, we salute you and your way of life.
International Organization for Standardization, “The Future of Farming.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Oregon State University’s Oregon Agricultural Progress Archive, “Digital Farm of the Future.”; Oregon State University’s Oregon Agricultural Progress Archive, “Future of Agriculture: A Panel Discussion.”; Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences/Biological and Ecological Engineering, Nexus of Energy, Water and Agriculture Laboratory, agsci-labs.oregonstate.edu/newaglab/; Washington State University, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Science News, “Researchers Share Future of Ag Tech in Consortium Tour.”; Washington State University, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Science News, “Preserving Agriculture Knowledge, New WSU Educator Prepares the Next Generation of Ag Teachers.”