Looking into the future in any field is exciting—and in agriculture it’s especially exhilarating because of the rapid tech changes in the last few decades. While no one knows exactly what the future holds, current trends and cutting-edge technology can help us make some good predictions for what food production and agriculture might look like in 2050.
A great place to explore ideas about agriculture 4.0 and the future of farming technology is at a cross-sector Ag Tech conference, like Rally. This is where thought leaders and industry experts from many different technology sectors come together to exchange ideas and shape the future of agriculture technology.
In this article we’ll explore more about what the future may hold, and set the stage for the presentations and industry-shaping discussions going on at Rally this year.
Why Is the Year 2050 so Important to Agriculture?
You might be wondering why this article focuses on the adoption of new technology in agriculture for the year 2050, specifically. The reason this year plays such an important role in agriculture is two-fold:
- The world population is estimated to reach over 9 billion around 2050—compared to the 7 billion of today. That means agriculture needs to provide food, biofuel, and fiber for this gargantuan number of individuals.
- It is predicted that this world population will require 50% more agricultural production to meet all these needs. Increasing yields by this degree presents a real change in how the system currently operates.
These factors working together is why the year 2050 is often singled out in discussions about agricultural advances. But obviously the human population will steadily grow between now and 2050 to reach these numbers, so we are already seeing the adoption of new technology in agriculture to meet humanities growing needs.
What Will the Crop Yield be in 2050?
Given the rate of historic growth, we can predict crop yields in 2050 to be almost double what they are now. Agricultural production, including crop yields, have increased substantially over the last 75 years. In 1948, if a plot of land produced one bushel of corn, by 2019 that same plot produced 2.7 bushels. These historical increase in yield have come from several factors, like:
- New varieties of crops, developed through traditional plant crossing or genetic modification.
- Machinery and technological advances in planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, and animal husbandry.
- Development and refinement of the usage of fertilizers and pesticides.
- Shift to more sustainable food production methods that focus on soil fertility, crop diversity, and ecosystem health.
All the factors that increased yields over the last 75 years are still being utilized today. In fact, in many ways each of these factors are gaining momentum with new technological advances paving the way for even more positive growth. For instance:
- The development of new crop varieties with beneficial qualities is speeding up due to advances in plant breeding and genetic engineering.
- Smart devices, specialized automations, and advances in AI and machine learning (ML) mean technology is continuing to increase agricultural production.
- Sensors are now available that allow farmers to monitor water and nutrient levels in the soil in real time, meaning fertilizers, watering, and pest pressures can be addressed more effectively.
- Knowledge about how agricultural systems can function better as their own ecosystems, and within wider ecosystems is continuing to advance.
When you combine all of this information, there is every reason to believe that agricultural production will continue to increase at least as fast as it has over the last 75 years. Reports show that between 1948 and 2019, agricultural outputs increased an average of 1.42% per year. This means if the historical rate continues, in 2050 agricultural outputs should be 4.18 times more than it was in 1948, and nearly double what it was in 2019.
How Much Land Will be Used in Agriculture in 2050?
Estimates put agricultural land use in 2050 anywhere between 25% more than it is now, to 12% less than today. This illustrates how many variables there are in doing these sorts of future predictions, and how models need to be continually updated as we learn more.
First, let’s look at this question in the same way we did with crop yield in the previous section. If a farmer in 1948 needed four acres to produce a set amount of grain, technological advances meant that farmer only needed three acres to produce the same amount in 2019. Land use decreased by about one quarter in that 70-year span as crop yields, fertilizers, and pest control increased. Assuming the same decrease in land use for the next 31 years, we would expect the farmer of the future to need only 2.63 acres of land to produce the same amount of grain that took four acres to grow in 1948 (or 12% less than we are using today).
Other studies using statistical modeling, climate change, and GPS technology in agriculture have come up with various plausible models. One land-use study found that in seven of the 10 projected scenarios, cropland increased 10-25% by 2050, while one model projected a decrease.
Come to Rally to Find Out What the Agriculture Technology of the Future Is
The best place to explore what comes next in agriculture technology is among thought leaders throughout the tech fields. Agriculture is so fundamental to all our lives, that technological advances in every field should be brought to bear on future solutions. Great leaps are being made in software, hardtech, and other industries, and you might be the one to recognize how these advances can be the next big thing in agriculture too.
The Rally Conference is the place to be to forge these connections and make these leaps. Rally is the global leader in technology innovation conferences, and features cross-sector connections for businesses, entrepreneurs, scholars, and investors—not to mention a pitch competition with up to $5M in possible investment, demos, keynotes, and more. Take a look at our agenda for more details, and book your tickets now.