Big data will make farming more environmentally responsible and easier to regulate, but will lessen the sense of place cherished by the local food movement.
Nothing is more important in agriculture than place. What is successful on one kind of soil in one kind of climate won’t necessarily work in another place with a different soil or different weather patterns. Farmers have always gained the knowledge necessary to understand a place through hard-won and rarely transferable experience. What farmer Brown knows about his land might travel down the road a few miles, but it is less applicable on a similar farm in a different part of the country. This idea of place is what drives the local food movement. Wineries brag about the perfection of the marriage between their varietals and soil. On our farm, every acre that I’ve farmed for 35 years and that my father has farmed for 65 years has a story. We know which weeds grow where, when the wet spots will appear, and we all remember that time the combine caught on fire down by the hackberry tree. Farmers’ personal relationship to place, one of the salient facts that distinguish agriculture, is about to change.
Within 20 years, this will no longer be true:
We are also headed towards another agriculture revolution, from horizontal agriculture to vertical agriculture, where we grow very high quality food in AI controlled buildings.
These will recycle all nutrients and end the ecological disaster that constitutes contemporary factory farming. This will include hydroponic plants for fruits and vegetables and in vitro cloning of muscle tissue for meat, that is meat without animals, thereby ending animal suffering.
I think this prediction will turn out to be accurate. High rise farming in controlled environments seems an obvious solution to a lot of problems, once you start to think about it. There is no real reason that farming should be subject to the vicissitudes of weather or soil quality.