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From the Editor: Embracing farmer 4.0

Embracing farmer 4.0


October 25, 2019
By Stefanie Croley

The world population will reach 9.7 billion people by the year 2050, according to a June 2019 report from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. With a number that high, the agriculture industry will, without question, play an even larger role in sustaining and supporting the world’s people and economy. But is the industry prepared to take on such a huge responsibility? When it comes to Canada, economists and researchers say the answer to that question is “no.”

That’s according to Farmer 4.0, a report released by RBC in September 2019, which argues that with the correct skillset (i.e. the adoption of more technology), agricultural GDP could reach $51 billion, making the industry “more productive than auto manufacturing and aerospace combined.” But before that happens, Canadian farmers have lots of work to do.

The report details the three technological revolutions that Canadian agriculture has seen over the last century: the boom of the seed and fertilizer industries in the early 1900s, tractor advancement in the 1950s, and developments in software and crop genetics some 20 to 30 years later. But today, the fourth revolution is data-driven, and the farmer of the future – or Farmer 4.0 – will be innovative, highly skilled and forward thinking.

The challenge, however, lies in the centre of the crossroads Canadian farmers are currently facing. Some of the report’s findings aren’t shocking – specifically the skills and labour shortage in the industry (for example, by 2025, one in four farmers will be 65 or older, and fewer young people than ever are joining the sector). Those demographics, combined with the changing skills required to succeed in agriculture means the industry leaders of the future will look quite different than they have in the past. Going forward, farm owners and operators – what the report refers to as the “deciders” – will need to be sharp thinkers, with strong digital and leadership skills. Those who service farm equipment – the “enablers” – will need software knowledge and technological expertise in order to keep up with smart machinery. And more jobs will be available for the “specialists” – the scientists and geneticists, who play an equally important role.

These are solid recommendations, but I’d argue that Canadian producers are already on the right track. Nearly half of agriculture workers under 40 have a post-secondary education, and enrolment in such programs has increased by 29 per cent in the last decade. Furthermore, as we like to report about, Canadian crop scientists are making great strides in plant breeding, soil fertility and crop management research to help you make better decisions on your farm.

A lot of this seems like big-picture talk, but the onus is on you right now to make small changes to keep the momentum going. Seek out new learning opportunities, collaborate with your peers, and promote the benefits of agriculture to your neighbours. Perhaps most importantly, approach change with an open mind. If we’re going to keep feeding a growing population, we have to embrace the whole range of solutions.