The Trouble with Agriculture
Part One: The Big Picture
By Al Eisaian, Co-Founder and CEO of IntelinAir
More than any other time in our history, agriculture must change to fulfill its primary mission. While the looming population crisis is usually cited as the biggest hurdle the industry faces in feeding the world, having more mouths to feed is one aspect of a broader demographic dilemma. To change, farmers must embrace precision technology that improves decision-making and, ultimately, profitability.
The population problem is complex because the number of people on the planet is rising, but the growth isn’t linear. In fact, the rates of growth have declined sharply in recent decades as societies tend to have fewer children as they become wealthier.1 On the other hand, advanced medicine is extending lifespans, so those who are born today on average will live 5.5 years longer than a child born just 16 years ago.2
The UN takes these and many other factors into account to estimate the global population will expand 25 percent over the next three decades. Imagine having to feed everyone in China, the United States, and Brazil not once, but twice. That’s what will have to be done in 2050. Once we reach that level of population, growth is likely to plateau. And that’s a good thing, because feeding 9.7 billion people is not as simple as just producing 25 percent more food. As the population grows, demographics shift.
Diets change significantly in nations that become richer, with people consuming more protein and calories overall.3 This is why meat consumption has quadrupled since the 1960s, driving demand for feed corn, barley, oats, and sorghum.4 Even the advent of meatless “Impossible Burger” substitutes does not alter the need to grow more soy.
In a theoretical world with unlimited land and inputs, there would be no limit to how much food could be produced, even at current yields. But that’s not realistic. Start taking away someone’s land or water to build and run more farms and you’re asking for a fight.
We’re already investing billions every year on developing better seeds and chemicals. While these efforts are getting results in terms of improved yields, the big leaps in these areas have been made with the introduction of hybrids, GMOs and seed treatment, leaving likely improvements in the decades ahead to be incremental. We’ve maxed out.
As we’ll discuss in part two, the situation is made worse by not having enough farmers to tackle the challenge. Fortunately, advanced technology is available to bridge the gap and give growers the insight they need to produce more, profitably.
Al is passionate about leveraging data to solve problems. At IntelinAir, that means feeding a growing population, driving efficiency and improving grower profitability. Before IntelinAir, Al co-founded IconApps, Integrien Corporation, and CreationPoint Systems—all with successful exits, and held leadership roles at LowerMyBills and Minebea.