Future Industry Developments

As we celebrate our 20th Year Anniversary issue, I can’t help but reflect on how the industry has changed over the past two decades. Greenhouses have got bigger, growing systems have become more sophisticated, the climate more unpredictable and regulations ever more complex. Today, there are aspects of a grower’s job that would have been difficult to imagine back in the early 1990s. For example, could we have ever imagined controlling the climate inside the greenhouse to the zenith degree, or using natural predators to fight insect pests? In this milestone issue, I look back on the industry’s development over the past 20 years, the magazine’s contribution to its growth, and its future in the new digital age.

So what about the industry’s future? Over the next 20 years growers will face many new challenges. A growing global population, climate change, land and water shortages, high energy costs and food security are all putting pressure on growers to adapt and improve. The primary role of growers will still be food production, but growing systems will be low-carbon, resilient, environmentally friendly and sustainable in social and economic terms.

So what future developments can growers expect? Based on current trends, there are two standout areas that can be predicted with some degree of certainty. The production of natural insect predators and the development of new biocontrols will become big business. Climate change has brought new pests to growers worldwide and using natural predators to control pest species has been successful. While many growers already use Integrated Pest Management systems to reduce their reliance on pesticides, the high cost of, and consumer distaste for traditional pesticides will drive the demand for beneficial insects. In fact, insect farming is touted as a future industry to produce tasty bugs rich in protein and vitamins for human consumption to replace meat. Producing a kilogram of meat from a cow requires 13kg of vegetable matter compared to 1.5 to 2kg of fodder to produce 1-kg of meat from crickets, locusts or beetles, and produces a fraction of the CO2 emissions. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is currently considering a policy paper on insect eating, even though it is already quite common in parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK there is already a nascent demand for bug burgers.

Another future development will be improvements in mobile and information technology (IT) that allow growers to show consumers the face of their product brand and to openly communicate their work. Consumer demand for transparency on food provenance will drive these technology developments so that shoppers can track the whole supply chain simply by scanning a product barcode with their mobile phone. Consumers will expect to be able to see the farm and communicate with staff through blogs, tweets and film. In this issue we highlight what appears to be the first step in IT developments for growers with our story on Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs and its breakthrough supply chain model, Freshweb, an online ordering and dispatch system for customers and suppliers.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G September/October 2011 – Issue 120