What will farms and food production look like in twenty years’ time?

This is a key question that we continually ask ourselves at Small Robot Company. We did not set out as a business to try to find the fastest way to make ourselves rich. We set out to create a really clear vision for the way that food production could and should be better than it is today and now we are trying to build the organisation that is going to make our vision a reality.

So what do we think is going to be true of the world and of the way we produce food in 2040?

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1) Small, smart machines will have replaced tractors as the standard way of managing our soil to produce food

A predictable one for me to start on and central to the work that Small Robot Company is doing today. We believe that big, heavy tractors are no longer the best tools to manage the soil to produce food. It’s not that tractors are bad, just that technology has developed to the point where this is no longer the best way forward.

  • Using tractors in their current form is not the best way forward for the farmer because they are too expensive.

  • Using tractors is not the best way for the environment because they are too inaccurate and they necessitate too much waste.

  • Using tractors is not the best way forward for humanity because they are limiting the productivity of our major crops and we need an ongoing increase in productivity if we are to feed a growing global population.

  • It will take time for this new way of managing farms to become mainstream, but by 2040 this change will comfortably have taken place.

2) Your food will be produced by a different set of people and the industry will be led by a new set of businesses

The way that we think about our food and the way that we produce our food is about to be transformed.

One of the biggest transformations will be in the names and faces of the people doing the production. We believe that a growing number of farmers, the primary producers in our food chain, will be people who have not been born into it. It will probably not be a majority in twenty years’ time but it will be approaching one and the tipping point will be close in 2040.

This a huge change to the farming industry as it stands today and a big challenge to those farmers who are not alive to the changes that are happening in their industry. Equally, it is a huge opportunity for existing farmers who embrace this change and its implications.

As well as the primary producers, we believe that the biggest names in the food industry will be new companies, many of which do not exist today. The major machinery manufacturers, chemical producers, and integrators who dominate the industry today face going out of business by 2040 if they are not able to adapt their business models to thrive in this new future of food production.

3) The farm will have become a digital product, meaning that it will be possible to manage a farm with an extremely high level of accuracy without physically being there.

New hardware and software in the farming industry will enable a new way of looking at the farm. The farmer’s field will have truly become a series of 1s and 0s.

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The digitisation of the farm will mean that the farmer will be able to explore far greater horizons of possibility in their careers.

No longer will they be required to physically live on or near their farms. They won’t even have to live in the same country.

Farming will become a much more meritocratic career and the best farmers will be able to remotely manage a farm anywhere in the world, whilst living wherever suits them and their families best.

4) Food production will be one of the sexiest, most exciting industries that you can work in and the most talented people in the world will be focusing their attention on this area of human life.

The food industry in its current form struggles to attract the best talent. Many roles within the food production industry are repetitive, menial and poorly compensated.

By 2040, a huge transformation will have taken place. The way we produce food will have become one of the most important and exciting areas to work in, and the most talented people in the world will devote their careers to solving these problems.

The most valuable and the most dynamic businesses in the world in 2040 will be food businesses, and they will be some of the most exciting places to work.

5) We will have largely moved away from farming animals for meat.

This is not central to Small Robot Company’s work, but it is something that we believe is an important ongoing trend which is going to continue to gather momentum and will ultimately have a significant impact on the future of food production because it indicates a growing need amongst consumers to feel connected to where their food comes from.

Veganism and vegetarianism will continue to grow and by 2040 it could be the norm. People will access their proteins from different sources. Lab grown meats will be being produced at scale and as soon as it is possible to affordably eat meat or meat substitutes, without having to kill an animal, the change will happen very quickly.

Algae production for protein is new industry with huge potential in this area.

And what will remain the same?

Jeff Bezos always likes to say that he spends much more time thinking about the things that will remain the same in the future, rather than the things that will change.

Here are three things that we think are here to stay for the long term.

We will still eat many of the staple foods that we eat today

Wheat, barley, oats, corn etc. will still form a key part of our diet in 2040.

We also think that we will continue to grow these crops in the open air with soil, hence our emphasis as a business on developing technologies which will preserve and improve soil health. Indoor and vertical farming will continue to grow in relevance and will play a key role in the development of some crops, but good soil will remain as a cornerstone of food production.

People will still want good quality, responsibly produced food; at an affordable price

Not only will people continue to want this, they will also expect to gradually pay less for their food as a percentage of their income over time and this trend will be more pronounced in developing countries. Those basing their future business strategy around a vague hope that people will be willing to pay more for their food need to have a serious re-think.

Trust will remain a central issue in food supply

The most valuable businesses in the future of food will be those which can create the greatest transparency in the food supply chain and, as a consequence, the greatest amount of trust between consumer and producer.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what you think the future of food supply and production looks like - please do comment below or email us at info@smallrobotcompany.com to share your views,