Posted by Will Nack.
A perceived major issue in Ag is the labour employment challenge, and with every innovation, we see less labour employed as a result. So how substantial is this labour crisis really? This decline in labour employed may be more a symptom of a changing Agriculture industry. A new generation is stepping up to the challenge and with fresh blood comes fresh ideas.
Brace for impact, the Millennial's are coming!!
We are all well aware of the aging farmer issue, and some believe this is a result of Agriculture struggling to appeal to millennials (born 1980-1994). Being from the spoken generation myself, I would argue that this isn’t true and that agriculture is beginning to appeal to my tech-savvy generation in ways that would surprise many. Precision Agriculture is expanding rapidly and we are taking agriculture out of the field and in front of the computer. With the likes of drone and GPS technology assisting farmers in day to day operations and improving decision making, it’s as if parts of agriculture is becoming a computer game.
Like most millennials, I have spent significant time (and money) on computer games. One trend I've noticed recently is the growing popularity of farming based gameplay. Farming was originally a minor part in video games, but now, whole games are dedicated to it. ‘Steam’ is the most popular online computer games platform worldwide and its current 100 most played games list includes several farming-based games. This list is condensed in the Table below, which shows the farming-based games available and what degree farming is represented in each of them. While most of these games have other aspects to them, Farming Simulator 17 is entirely based around agriculture and attempts to give the player the most realistic simulation of running a farm.
Source : Steam
So, this idea that younger people aren’t interested in Agriculture simply isn’t true, why else would we have so much farming in games? Like these games, Precision Ag encompasses many ideas, challenges and features that excite people and draw them in. It may well be responsible for bringing in the younger generation of farmers.
Precision Ag has unique characteristics, including heavy amounts of mechanization, automation and extensive data collection. The concept has been around since the 1980’s when machinery manufacturer Claas combined its auto-pilot technology to the combine harvester.
Since then, many innovations have taken place including the driverless tractors (1994), automated egg grading systems (1990), voluntary/automated milking systems or AMS/VMS (1990).
Looking at AMS/VMS in more depth, its implementation has been limited due to the large capital expenses and cautious perceptions of this new style of farming. This system involves dairy cattle voluntarily moving to milking machines three times a day. It provide an incentive for the cows to be milked with the use of feed and a back-scratching system that cows seem to really enjoy.
Much of the farmer managers activities will take place in front of a computer as the milking machines also collect data relating to cow health, milk quality and behaviour and then analysing it to make the best animal husbandry decision.
While there are no specific games simulating AMS/VMS, the concept of taking in data and analysing it to make better decisions is a key trait of many farming-based games. Farming simulator 17, for example, has players decide on which crop to grow depending on the simulated regions weather, soil fertility and in-game wealth. Your success in the game is tied to making good decisions and ensuring that you can farm repeatedly and make profits for your virtual farm. Sound familiar?
Back to the main issue of labour in farming, a deterrent for many millennials is the physicality, intensity and long hours of the job.The main issue here is that we millennials are in fact lazier than past generations (from experience anyway); however, this isn’t necessarily a bad trait as Bill Gates once stated, “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job.…...because he will find an easy way to do it”.
This message resonated with me as I came to really appreciate what it meant, working smarter not harder. Agricultural is growing exponentially and fully automated farming will become very popular as my generation moves into the industry. Along with AMS other self-automated farming systems have arisen, one is the vertical farm approach. Although fully automated farming is not yet widespread its popularity will increase as the younger generation joins the industry.
Ironically our addiction to the screen could become our biggest asset, as future farming becomes more analytical, tech driven and less physical.