The idea of using computer terminology for describing the different eras of agriculture is becoming trendy! I was first introduced to the concept of Agriculture 3.0 by Steffen Schneider of Hawthorne Valley Farm, at a biodynamic conference in November, 2012. He was sharing his Ag3.0 explorations with us which he started back in the spring of 2011, searching for a way to heal our disconnect between soul and soil, farming, and food in what he describes as the “Soil to Soul” connection.
Recently, thanks to my sister Lynn, I came upon the articles of Jim Budzynski in CropLife. It is perhaps he who published the conceptualization of Agriculture 3.0 first, because in his second article, he uses it so well to compare where agriculture is going, to the world of iPads, tablets, Blackberry and Microsoft, etc. It makes for an interesting parallel.
He argues that if a company takes a proprietary seed, coats it with a proprietary nutrition and crop protection package and applies it using proprietary application equipment using its performance data, that just like Apple or Microsoft, the company is in all the businesses in its sector simultaneously. The jostling that goes on to determine who shall rule in both these sectors, is quite the plot for a good movie, especially when companies start purchasing war intelligence companies (http://bit.ly/13Frxcr). The suspense continues!
For those of you who are familiar with computers, you will appreciate these questions that Jim Budzynski puts forward (http://www.croplife.com/article/32675/revisiting-agriculture-3-0):
• Will proprietary or “open source” systems predominate in agriculture?
• Any guesses on who the aggie “Microsoft” or “Apple” are?
• Which companies will become agriculture’s version of “Blackberry,” with great technology and arguably superior solutions in a narrow niche who get passed by because they cannot offer the integrated solutions the customers seek?
• What role will the increasingly powerful ag channel players play given their strategic position as the trusted advisor to many of the customers?
• What kind of acquisitions will the larger players need to make to “complete their portfolio?”
• How do earlier stage technology companies need to position themselves to be relevant and valuable in this emerging paradigm (Ag3.0)?
“Agriculture is undergoing fundamental change, but my sense is that it is happening for many of us with as much regret as anticipation,” Jim Budzynski says in his earlier article. There is something to be said for a clean field with perfect straight lines, everything neat and tidy and in its place, just like mowing the lawn in diagonals in suburbia. It is satisfying! Leaving weeds or crop residue and practicing no-till is not the same! There may no longer be that same sense of pride, as we adopt new practices for agriculture that are kinder to the environment.
Here are Jim’s definitions for Ag 1.0 and 2.0, which are very similar to mine (http://www.croplife.com/article/23756/get-ready-for-agriculture-3-0):
Agriculture 1.0 is a fairly labour intensive, low productivity affair which fed the people but required 7 million small farms and 30% of the population to do it. (And what is wrong with fewer unemployed people, I ask!)
Agriculture 2.0 began in the late 1950s after the second world war when agronomic management practices like supplemental nitrogen and new tools like synthetic pesticides allowed us to take advantage of the dramatically higher yield potential offered by hybrid seed corn. Ag2.0 was also characterized by relatively cheap inputs, and growing returns to scale (consolidation) at all levels. Awareness of the environmental impacts of off-target chemicals or fertilizer was low, and government support policies initiated in the 1930s assured relatively little market risk and actively encouraged consolidation.
Jim believes that Ag3.0 will see a movement away from efficiency as the primary focus (doing the same old things incrementally cheaper and in less time each year) to a new focus on profitability. I say the new focus has to be on nutritional value, which means turning our focus to soil health. Perhaps this is my hope. Or perhaps this is Ag4.0, but I hope not, otherwise it might be too late.
Our society is already beginning to crumble as ill-health becomes the norm. Perhaps it is not agriculture that will be the change, but each of us as eaters might be the change by becoming more responsible for knowing the story behind what we eat and what we feed our children. From Weston Price and Pottenger studies several decades ago to 2011 USDA statistics on rising chronic illness and obesity in children, we are headed towards the possibility of completely dying out in a few generations, unable to conceive the next generation, if we keep up with our current food choices.
In his articles, Jim Budzynski believes we have already entered the era of Ag3.0. I believe we are seeing transitional agriculture. There is most certainly a shift but farm viability is still missing in most examples. The Ag3.0 farmer won’t be just a good farmer, but will also be producing nutritional feed and food and operating a diversified agribusiness.
We both concur that to succeed, the farmer requires business management skills that include marketing, risk management, branding and processing in order to differentiate. The old way was overpaying for adjacent farms to increase farm size and buying tractors way bigger than needed. Bigger was better. In Ag2.0, so many farmers follow exactly the same ‘recipe’ and do everything the same as the next farmer. Now, health will re-enter the equation, hopefully before the crisis. We most stop “pledging allegiance to a method of farming that we know destroys land and people” (Janine M. Benyus. 1997. Biomimicry. Harper Collins, p.49).
Healthy soils, healthy watersheds, healthy ecosystems, healthy bees, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy societies, and the farmer rewarded for the differentiation that their skills bring, and for feed and food that has higher nutritional value. Imagine the future when the consumer carries an instrument similar to an infra-red thermometer, that measures the brix level of a piece of fruit in the grocery store. Coming soon!