For many years, in plants and animals, agriculture has relied on genetics in realizing some of its most important advancements. This trend will not only continue but will accelerate as basic research in genetics, including methods allowing ever greater precision in genome editing, will deliver now-unforeseen possibilities.
Genetic technologies in areas such as synthetic biology will make it possible to actually construct – thinking in the context of a Lego block approach – parts or all of a genome. The ability to enhance the performance of biological systems will create value and deliver benefits that could range from drugs for improved human health to more practical biofuel production.
In addition to enhancement of more traditional agricultural products, these improvements have the potential to extend and broaden the impact of the life sciences through many sectors of the economy including such areas as manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, industrial products and more.
Currently, farmers and others collect many types of data at the field level. This includes such data as hybrids or varieties planted, yield, herbicide applications, fertilizer applications, etc. Whether farmers and agriculture overall are realizing the full value of this information is open to debate, but a general view is that there is room for improvement in this regard. Certainly with time, experience and increased confidence throughout the agricultural and food value chain gains in efficiency, quality and value will be realized.
Firms partnering with farmers will have the opportunity use producer data to better determine how new products perform, which new products and technologies are needed and how well current products and practices are working. These firms will use this information and experience to improve new product discovery and development programs and to more effectively manage investment of money and other resources in the development of new products. Big data will also be useful in identifying new product and service opportunities in agriculture (e.g., enhanced crop insurance programs).
The technology of "big data" is going to be very useful in monitoring where certain products are in the food supply chain. It will be possible to track, for instance, which supplies are genetically modified and which are not, or which are most healthy and which are not. This in turn will allow for smarter distribution, enhanced food safety traceability and improved marketing to consumers as consumer needs and wants change and diversify.
Sometimes referred to as sustainable and in other instances as organic, local or "green" production, trends of producing and delivering products to consumers that meet their expectations regarding reduced environmental impact, improved human health and enhanced product quality are trends that will continue well into the foreseeable future.
Consumers will want to know exactly what a specific product contains (e.g., pesticide-free), how a given product is produced, who produced it, where it was produced and under what conditions. People will continue to seek out more information regarding the nutritional value of the food they eat. They'll want to know more and more about its effect on their health in general.
Food's important role in human health will be highlighted and take center stage in improving human health. An increased understanding of food's growing role in improving human health could result in a shift of value from traditional areas of human health to food and agriculture. Facilitating such improvements represents important business opportunities for the food and agriculture industries – opportunities that will require increased scrutiny of current practices and likely thinking differently about future practices.
Mergers and acquisitions as well as partnerships and collaborations will continue to influence food and agriculture businesses and drive the industry toward fewer large technology and branded-product driven companies. One driver of the trend is the continuing need for low-cost crop production inputs. Since, in general, farmers cannot control the price they receive for what their production, low cost inputs are usually very attractive. To some extent, achieving economies of scale and efficiency (e.g., manufacturing, technology development) through consolidation will move the market in that direction.
In addition, some companies, as currently configured, are poorly positioned to compete, leaving them with a choice between consolidation or some form of partnership to access new technology or look for ways to package older technologies into effective low-cost solutions.
Mergers, acquisitions, partnerships and collaborations may also be useful as paths for entry into food and agriculture for companies not currently involved in the space, but which, given emerging business opportunities, may become interested in somehow participating.
Doing well by doing good is a business-wide trend that has currency on many levels with agriculture and food companies as well as consumers. Increasingly, companies are interested in being viewed as socially responsible; and they believe that it is critical to their business that they be viewed as socially responsible.
Strong consumer demand will drive companies to work at fostering, promoting and delivering sustainable production of highly nutritious and healthful foods. Success will be measured against use of environmentally friendly and healthful agricultural and food production methods that sustain farmers and resources over time while enabling production of all necessary food, fiber and fuel for a growing world population.