Do we follow food trends or feed the masses?

I recently addressed the 2018 New Century Farmer class in Des Moines, Iowa. Each year, the National FFA Organization selects an elite group of FFA members between the ages of 18 and 24 who are involved in production agriculture and want to advance their leadership, personal, and career skills. The group’s level of engagement bodes well for the future of the agriculture industry. One of the participants asked an intriguing question, “Do we as future agriculturalists follow the food trends or focus on commodity production to feed the masses in the U.S. and abroad?”

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, both models are going to be in vogue. One can observe the rapid consolidation of the agriculture industry with under 15 percent of producers generating 80 percent of the output. Commodity producers will be focused on a drive toward efficiency and will be challenged by global competition and vulnerable to currency exchanges, trade negotiations, and preferences in the marketplace, particularly abroad.

Another group of agriculture producers will be aligned to the changes in the food and fiber marketplace. This marketplace will be challenged by the evolving food and fiber preferences of the millennials and Generation Z. This group of consumers will make purchases based upon experience about 75 percent of the time. Local, natural, organic, and point of origin attributes will provide a premium to producers who align their land, labor, capital, technology, and information resources to the marketplace. The bigger players in the marketplace, such as grocery store chains, will closely monitor these trends and preferences and use the data to develop systems to provide convenience and uniqueness to consumers.

Chasing the food and fiber trends will be a shift for all players in the agriculture industry. While chasing may appear to be reactive, a better word might be reconnaissance. When producers are in touch with the changes in the marketplace, they are better able to adapt their business model to capitalize on these trends. In my travels, I see progressive operators adjusting and tweaking their business, regardless of size or enterprise, to align with these market changes.

The bottom line is that the future of agriculture will not be one-size-fits-all. We can hope that entrepreneurialism can still prevail despite the pressures to consolidate.

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