(Editor’s note: Douglas Fisher is the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture.)
I have lived long enough to see things disappear that I thought would always be around.
I presume many of you have noticed this, too.
For me, the list includes phone booths, cameras using film, cursive writing, newspapers (the newsprint version), encyclopedias, and so on.
I’ve seen recorded music go from vinyl to 8-track tapes to cassette to compact discs, to digital files downloaded from the cloud (which soon also may be obsolete).
At the same time, we’ve seen the emergence of new products, concepts and beliefs that were not known or expected just 50 years ago. Drones, global messaging, IOT, “CRISPR,” 3-D printing, and AR.
Things are moving really fast. In fact, the average person in the United States consumes 100,000 words of information every day, according to ZDNet (which, by the way, has been around only since April 1991).
Never in the history of the world has change occurred at this rate and it can be alarming. Climate resilience, resource depletion, economic models, you name it.
Over the next 10 or so years, the farming world needs to think intensely about the future of all agricultural endeavors. And the sooner the better.
Why sooner? Well, what we have now, what we thought was working well, really is, in certain sectors, a bit tattered.
We have seen how breaks in the supply chain cause chaos in the very linear practices of food production, distribution and consumption. The problem? Not much of a “Plan B.”
When the systems work as they evolved, all the elements merge at the exact right time. Until now, nothing happening on the planet matched the spectacular system we honed down for America’s farm economy.
The speed of change is so fast now. Amazon built in 20 years, Tesla in 20, while Sears, Penney’s, DFA, while venerable, all are disappearing or radically changed after existing 100 years or more.
Additionally, when a catastrophe like COVID-19 hit, the wheels came off our supply chain models.
There are shortages, over-production, demand shifts, labor difficulties — all kinds of issues for the model that had developed more slowly over 200 years of American farm products but over the past 50 years changed rapidly.
This is the time that we in the agriculture community must force ourselves to ponder, “How will it look and perform in the future?”
Does the farming community have a true picture of where it needs to go?
We can no longer realistically guarantee that growing a particular crop defines success or defines the kind of farmer you are.
People say they are dairy farmers, or potato farmers, or grain farmers…but the commodities, markets, and even the consumers are in more flux than ever before.
Because we can move anything in quantity so rapidly from far away — whether peaches or peanuts or currency — the old models do not hold up like they used to. Milk comes into our close-in markets from not-so-close-in places like New Mexico, strawberries from Canada, and the cheapest on the block most times get the rewards. Farming cannot survive if the returns never happen.
Farming needs national and state plans that envision future agriculture. This is vital for our country to continue being self-sufficient. People talk about food systems, and ecosystems, and urban systems and it all sounds good, but where is a national blueprint? Can there be one that works in all regions? Look at the wretched, beaten system for milk pricing. It worked in its time, being born of the Great Depression, but does not fit our modern markets.
Farming, for some, now relies on subsidies, but for others, predatory pricing is wiping them out of the marketplace. The only thing that won’t change is that food is essential.
How will agriculture go forward? In our fields? Building rooftops? Abandoned warehouses? Will we have prime soils? Or will advances in genetics and technology mean marginal lands will suffice?
We have to stay real. Where do all the pieces fit together? These are questions asked not just by agriculture, but also the educational system, manufacturing, and healthcare.
For New Jersey, 730,000 acres should look like what? These are bold questions. And if the farm community is willing, a discussion about a holistic approach should commence.
Interested? Let me know.