AEM identifies trends expected to reshape the way food is produced

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers has identified 13 trends expected to reshape the way food is produced in North America over the next decade.

Megan Tanel, president of AEM, says producing more with less environmental impact is one of the top trends.

“I think farmers have always been really good at being stewards of the environment and the land, but they are constantly asked to produce more while reducing that environmental impact,” she says. “The global population is expected to increase by 2.2 billion by 2050. That means farmers are going to have to grow 70% more food, and that’s really not a lot of time in there to figure out how to do that. So, our focus along this vein again was really focusing on technology and its adoption and how that’s going to be key to meeting the food production demands. For us, one of those solutions would be along the lines of precision agriculture. That’s just one way to help row crop farmers meet that growing expectation with less impact.”

And, she tells Brownfield there is also a need to reduce the connectivity gap.

“As we can narrow the connectivity gap that really can level the playing field a little bit for some of these small- to medium- sized farmers who we need in this fight as well to feed the world as well,” she says. “So, when you’re looking at innovative technologies, you know we’ll be using satellites, 5G fiber optics, all these things to help close that connectivity gap, that will help enable the farmers to leverage the innovations and the strategies so they can produce more food with again less environmental impact. With that connectivity being such a huge deal, we are happy to be able to talk about the bipartisan infrastructure law that has about $65 billion included to improve Internet service. A huge focus is rural broadband and I think once we can improve that Internet service again, it enables small to medium sized farmers to also focus on technology and the connectivity in that piece that would be essential in the food supply chain across rural America.”

Tanel says the optimization of water use will be another huge topic over the next decade.

“As our population grows and our food demand increases, our water supplies will fall short by 40%. So, there’s huge concerns, of course, about water depletion. I think that concern will help drive technology adoption to help improve the soil management and optimize our water use. I think we can use the water we have but use it smarter to be able to either last longer or extend the value of the water that we have to grow more food,” she says. “Some of the solutions that could come from that and the focus on optimizing our water usage would be new soil sensors or better soil management practices, precision irrigation, using recycled or reclaimed water, or even just new seed varieties that could come up that would use less water.”

Artificial intelligence enabling insights-driven farming is another trend.

“Artificial intelligence will continue to revolutionize agriculture. The skilled workforce shortage is a huge challenge for us. It’s a main driver of embracing this artificial intelligence innovation,” she says. “As machine learning enables the equipment to work smarter, we’ll be able to use the GPS to turn on and off sprayers, for example, when they’re not needed. That’s addressing the workforce need, that’s addressing the environmental impact, and then again with machine learning, how we can improve our equipment management to help predict when maintenance is needed, what the repair is that’s needed, and what those replacement needs are before you run at really costly downtimes.”  

The other trends include: increase local demand for protein; shorter food supply chain; geographic shifts in production; advanced food traceability helps maintain consumer trust, farmers adjust in response to emission regulation; efforts to decarbonize create adjacent economies, resources pour into cybersecurity; farm ownership models change; and new business models emerge.

The Future of Food Production whitepaper was guided by the AEM Futures Council and a Vision Team, comprised of AEM member company thought leaders.

Tanel says over two years, AEM member leaders looked at the agriculture industry and researched, discussed, debated, and built a consensus in developing the whitepaper.

“(The whitepaper) came out of a focus that AEM put together a few years ago to have a Futures Council. From that Futures Council, they created a subset team called the Future of Food Production. So, it was kind of neat just from the beginning that the Futures Council, which was a cross section of agriculture, construction, and utility split off into these two subsets, so this one is specifically a labor of love by the Future of Food Production Vision Team. And, that really has AEM member subject matter experts specifically in that agriculture industry”

Tanel says there will be follow-up information this fall about what steps are needed to achieve the trends.

Click here for more information.

Audio: Megan Tanel

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