Top Ten Trends to Expect in 2016

1.    Genetically-edited livestock. This is different than “GMO” because no external genetic information is introduced to the animal. Instead, the animal’s own genes can be turned on or off. This could increase an animal’s ability to fight off disease. More on this in a future blog post. Consider the endless possibilities!

2.    Big data. This past year we saw many farms and agribusinesses realize the benefits of collecting and using data regarding inputs (seed, water, fertilizer, nitrogen, manure, etc.) and outputs (yield, date of maturation, etc.). In 2016, expect to see even more people using agricultural big data. Smart phones will play a role in the way we use and manage data to maximize production on the farm.

3.    Drones. Just recently, the FAA issued regulations requiring almost all drones to be registered in much the same way a passenger plane is registered. Exploding drone technology makes these tools cheaper and more readily accessible to the average farmer. I look forward to seeing how the FAA will—or won’t—enforce its new rules regarding drones. 

4.    Farm to fork movement. Here in Indiana, we are expecting a bill to limit the sale of chickens not inspected by the state. In the past, local restaurants had purchased these birds and served them for dinner, often identifying the local farm on which the chickens were raised. The chickens did not have to be inspected by the states as long as they were raised on a farm with under a certain number of birds. It is expected that the new legislation will limit the sales of such birds to the end consumer, rather than a restaurant “middle man.” The farm-to-fork movement is still popular, and people are still interested in knowing where their food was raised or grown. As this focus on local continues, I expect state legislatures and rule-making bodies to look to close existing loopholes.  

5.    Country of origin labeling. President Obama just signed a bill to repeal the USDA’s special COOL requirements, or country-of-origin labeling. This move comes on the heels of a World Trade Organization decision awarding the United States’ closest trading partners nearly $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. beef and pork industries. With the COOL repeal, the WTO sanctions are moot. The USDA has announced it will suspend enforcement of COOL for beef and pork products. This battle appears to be over, but country of origin labeling will continue to be a hot topic across the globe, as the European Union recently announced new guidelines for the labeling of products, including food and wine, from Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. 

6.    Exports/imports. At a recent summit in Kenya, countries in the World Trade Organization agreed to abolish subsidies on certain farming exports, excluding some dairy, pork, and processed products. Developed countries will stop subsidies immediately and developing countries will follow by the end of 2018. This followed years of frustration related to the Doha round of talks. Afghanistan and Liberia were recently accepted into the WTO and will participate in future negotiations. According to the Wall Street Journal, “farmers from countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada, who get relatively limited help from their governments, cheered the move, which should make their produce more competitive in global markets.” On the other hand, farmers in other countries like Switzerland and India, who receive substantial subsidy support, could lose their edge. I expect the conversation over subsidies is not over. 

7.    Cover crops. With profit margins decreasing for various traditional crops, cover crops will help farmers stay competitive. Cover crops retain soil nutrients, prevent run off and erosion, reduce compaction, and maintain soil quality. The use of cover crops will merge with my #2 trend—big data—as companies and individuals rely on big data to predict and inform them about the best cover crop for their particular farmland. 

8.    Fighting drought. Across the globe, farming communities are facing record drought and increasingly extreme temperatures. Grape growers in Mendoza, Argentina are using advanced technology to control irrigation for delicate grape vines. The entire region is in the rain-shadow of the substantial Andes mountains. The Mendoza River is almost entirely fed by the diminishing melting snow. To compensate, vineyards use drip technology to micromanage the water given to each grape plant, thereby reducing waste and run off. This gives growers complete control over the watering of the vines, thus allowing them to produce high quality grapes…and therefore high quality wines. Expect this drip technology to expand into other markets as drought and high temperatures continue. 

9.     Generational transfers. Over the coming year (and beyond), we will see massive wealth and land transfer to a younger generation. This new generation will continue to embrace technology, new ideas, and innovation on the farm. 

10.    Strong market growth in food processing sector. The industry will continue to invest heavily in technology and automation. After a number of high profile large scale recalls, manufacturers also are focusing on risk-based intervention and rapid responses to food borne illnesses and governmental recalls. Concerns about food sourcing have led certain industry groups to issue best standards guidance to industry members on securing supply chains. Expect the focus on food safety and automation to continue.