We live in a time when global trends are shaping our world more than ever. Often referred to as megatrends, they encompass the new technologies, environmental variables and social attitudes all rapidly changing what tomorrow will look like for humanity.
Horticulture is one of the world’s oldest industries, and whether it be by choice or necessity, has proven its ability to continuously adapt to change. So what are the trends that face our next generation of farmers and how will they shape our industry?
Convergence & Connectivity
The convergence of multiple technologies will see exciting new possibilities open up to operators along the supply chain. Technology and software developed in isolation or for use in other industries will find new applications throughout the horticulture industry.
Increased connectivity through the rollout of 5G networks in Australia, combined with digital technology such as sensors and drones, will see greater uptake of Internet of Things (IoT) technology across the industry. IoT refers to a state where objects and devices are connected to each other and the internet. Through increased connectivity and smarter data, IoT presents real opportunities for industry innovation. Operators will have the ability to track, sense and monitor their product from farm through to delivery. The information gathered will then allow operators to make real-time decisions or program automatic responses based on the data generated. Moisture levels monitored by sensors in the soil, for example, can be programmed to launch supplementary irrigation once levels get too low.
It is predicted that IoT device installations in agriculture will increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2022.
Augmented and virtual reality technology also offers new ways for operators to interact with their product, employees or consumers. Combining mobile or wearable technology with 3D visuals, augmented and virtual reality can allow producers to put themselves in a different location promoting transparency and the sharing of information with consumers, such as environmental credentials and produce health benefits. Testing of this technology is already underway, with this app launched by the almond industry recently. The Australian Almonds app provides the grower with direct customer access, by bringing to life the product packaging and in-store point of sale graphics. The app offers the customer a 360° farm tour, suggested recipes and details on the product’s health benefits.
Globalisation, with a focus on Asia
The continuing increase in globalisation has seen more and more producers supply to international markets. The rise of Asian economies has seen a rapid increase in the region’s middle-class population. The World Economic Forum suggests that this growing middle class will see a 35% rise in food demand.
With Australia’s proximity to Asia and stringent quality and safety regulations, we are well placed to service this demand. Employing traceability technologies, such as the aforementioned IoT monitoring devices, will continue to support our global reputation for delivering quality produce.
Coupled with this, it is expected that by 2030 the vast majority of the global population will live in urban areas. For example, in China an additional 300 million people will move to cities by this time.
The urbanisation of populations will provide further challenges in sourcing workers for farming industries. Trends in robotics, however, may respond to the worker shortfall whilst also reducing labour costs through a reduction in manual, unsafe or repetitive tasks. Exoskeletons, or wearable robots, also have the potential to change the way work is carried out on farms, allowing humans to perform tasks that once required higher power outputs (such as heavy lifting) or perform current tasks more efficiently for longer periods of time.
Healthy lifestyles are now big business. The wellness trend takes a holistic approach, encompassing food, exercise and mental health and a cultural agreement that these are interlinked.
Many consumers now acknowledge that healthy choices don’t just improve their waistline, but their general health and wellbeing as well. Demand for nutrient-rich foods will grow as consumers become more aware of how their diet affects all aspects of their health and wellbeing – including their physical health, gut health, mental health and energy levels.
Their wellness concerns aren’t solely inward-focused, though, with consumers demanding environmental and ethical sustainability from their food producers. With social media giving growers the opportunity to talk directly to their customers, grower transparency will continue to gain relevance. Water use, chemical use, local sourcing, seasonality and ethical treatment of workers are all considerations for consumers when deciding what produce ends up on their plates.
Whilst environmental impacts take their toll on the land, they also take their toll on the growers and producers working on it. Mental health has seen a cultural destigmatisation, and all sectors of the community, including those in rural areas, are now more aware, concerned and proactive around their mental wellbeing.
Intergenerational Knowledge Transference
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing major industries, particularly Horticulture, is the transference of knowledge between generations to enable businesses to adapt and thrive. Older, experienced generations need to ensure their wisdom and ways are properly transferred to a generation grappling with a rapidly changing world highly influenced by digital innovation and technology. This information can be seen as a valuable input, rather than something that needs to be disrupted, or worse – ignored. Similarly, the younger generation who are more comfortable in a fast-moving, technology-focussed world can act as guides to the older generation, helping them to adapt and grow. Outside of direct familial knowledge transference, industry events, industry groups and mentorship programs will continue to provide this opportunity to share and develop ideas.
If you’re interested in finding out more, PMA ANZ have recently released their State of the Industry report which members can download here.