I recently reported predictions about what the next few years hold for agriculture, derived from the plenary addresses of several experts at the Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health conference in Ames, Iowa on November 19 and 20.

The experts included emeritus professor and veterinarian, Dr. Kelley Donham of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University rural sociologists and economists Drs. Mike Duffy and Paul Lasley, and the director of the Dakota Center for Technology-Optimized Agriculture, Dr. Paul Gunderson.

Today I offer my comments about what the nearby future looks like for agriculture.  My opinions are those of a behavior specialist, healthcare researcher and provider, previous farmer but still a farm owner, and an interested observer.

Agricultural producers like progress but dislike change.  Speaking for Dr. Lasley as well, Dr. Duffy described progress of agricultural producers as adopting new technology, becoming bigger operators and integrating vertically.  Change, he said, involves living with increasing government regulations, blaming environmentalists and policy makers, and becoming stressed about these matters.  

Agricultural producers are in the third era of uncommon prosperity since the last century began, Duffy noted.  Prosperity does not mean the end of stress.

Ever larger farm operators are looking for legal ways to protect their wealth, such as placing farmland into trusts.  The agriculture economy is entering an era of retraction, but the “correction” won’t be as drastic as the Great Depression or the Farm Crisis of the 1980s.

Basically, I agree with Dr. Duffy and the other experts about what lies ahead for agriculture.  Hereafter are several of my own perspectives.

We are moving toward two primary methods of farming.  One method involves increasing reliance on technological advances and becoming ever larger and specializing in one or two products.  This method is sometimes called the industrial or conventional approach to agriculture.

The other primary method of farming involves organic production of agricultural goods, reliance on fewer purchased inputs while undertaking production of diverse foods and other outputs.  This method is sometimes called the sustainable or alternative approach to agriculture.  

It is mainly the affinity of the producers for farming in a manner they believe is closer to what biosystems require rather than manipulating the biosystems to suit their production that differentiates the two methods.  Organic producers and many consumers shun GMOs as artificial manipulations of biosystems.

Wikipedia defines a biosystem as a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system.  Although often frowned on by academicians as a scholarly reference, in this case Wikipedia is an appropriate reference for the definition of a biosystem because Wiki welcomes input from all website users to achieve a collaborative definition.

Farming organically is a trend that is here to stay.  Six years ago the sustainable approach to farming in the U.S. comprised less than one percent of farmers who operated even less farmland (.3%), according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

Worldwide, the amount of land invested in organic farming has increased threefold since 1999, according to a January 17, 2013 report by the Worldwatch Institute.  Worldwatch says organic farming in the U.S. is the fastest growing agricultural method in terms of practitioners and sales.  

In 2011, expenditures of organic foods were $31.5 billion, which was about five percent of total food expenditures.  In the nearby future some organic producers will equal their conventional-farming competitors in size.  

Consumer demand is the main factor driving the increase in organic food production in the U.S. and the world.  Although advocates of conventional farming sometimes contend that organic methods will not yield sufficient food, I look for organic farmers to embrace what they deem as acceptable technological advances to maximize production.

These include using robots to assist with crop cultivation instead of using herbicides to control weeds, and robotic animal milking devices to conduct large dairy operations while enhancing cleanliness and other healthful practices.

Organic farmers are already ahead of conventional farmers in the use of some technological advances, such as relying on electronic social media devices to market their products.  Likely, this trend will continue because organic producers desire direct connections with consumers.

Both agricultural producers and consumers will continue to be more health conscious in the future.  Knowledge and understanding of health issues is advancing rapidly worldwide and in the U.S.

Managing health to insure longevity and happiness will improve as more people become concerned about the effects of the obesity epidemic and as the Affordable Care Act places emphasis on preventive healthcare.  Farm operators are already one of the best educated occupational groups, and they will continue to implement health and safety practices that maximize farm production.

Agricultural producers will also pay more attention to behavioral health matters.  They will seek methods of managing stress better and reducing episodes of anxiety and depression through behavior management.

The future of agriculture looks to be positive and interesting.  What do you think the future holds for agriculture?  Please share your thoughts with me.

Dr. Rosmann lives near Harlan, Iowa.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.

By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.

Share your thoughts. Email Dr. Rosmann at [email protected], or visit his website at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.  You can call him at his office in Harlan, Iowa at 712-235-6100.