FB Study Identifies Agriculture's Future Challenges

U.S. agriculture's future will include a drastically changed government farm program, continued consolidation of production, and the adoption of additional environmental practices dictated by the marketplace. Compiled by staff

Published on: Dec 12, 2005

Over the next 15 years, American agriculture will remain a productive and profitable venture, but the industry will look considerably different than it does today. According to a two-year Farm Bureau study, U.S. agriculture's future will include a drastically changed government farm program, continued consolidation of production, and the adoption of additional environmental practices dictated by the marketplace.

The study was conducted by the AFBF "Making American Agriculture Productive and Profitable Committee." The MAAPP committee consisted of 23 Farm Bureau farmers and ranchers from across the nation that spent two years studying the possible structure of U.S. agriculture in the year 2019, the 100th anniversary of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"It is obvious from the report that America's farm and ranch families are facing big challenges, but also big opportunities," says AFBF President Bob Stallman, who unveiled the report today at a meeting of the AFBF Board of Directors. "This report signals that we must continue to pursue sound public policies that help preserve the family-oriented structure of American agriculture and encourage the economic health of our rural communities."

The MAAPP committee, chaired by Kentucky farmer Bill Sprague, was asked "to develop a vision of where American agriculture should be in 2019 and then develop policy recommendations to help farmers make the transition from the current situation to that of the future."

The committee identified various trends and circumstances affecting the future of farmers and ranchers. Those trends include:

  • Government support for agriculture will look very different in 2019; the farm bills of recent years will be nothing like the farm bills of the future.
  • America will have fewer farms producing a larger percentage of total U.S. food and fiber, but there also will be more smaller farms.
  • Farmers will be more dependent on rural communities than rural communities will be dependent on agriculture.
  • Global trade will be driving agricultural profitability, because more than 96% of the world's population will be living outside the United States.
  • More farmers and ranchers will have learned to produce what they can sell and not simply sell what they produce.
  • Market forces will be driving the implementation of more environmental practices.
  • Agricultural research and technology will be global in scope rather than focused nationally.

"Throughout this report, the MAAPP committee suggests ways that Farm Bureau, as an organization, can help facilitate innovative changes that will help our members adapt and thrive in this new environment," Stallman says.

Perhaps one of the most glaring areas in the report deals with the future structure of American agriculture. In 2002, 143,000 farming operations produced 75% of the value of all agricultural output. It took 1.9 million operations to produce the remaining 25%. According to the report, however, by 2019, there will be more large farms and more small farms, but the number of mid-sized farms will have decreased drastically.

The report also explored the relationship between farmers and their rural communities.
Even today, farmers actually depend more on rural communities than they recognize, due to off-farm employment for spouses or part-time employment for themselves. Farmers and ranchers depend heavily on rural infrastructure, support services and businesses, such as roads, libraries, schools, banks and health care facilities.

In the future, innovative marketing advances will allow farmers and ranchers to identify the types of products consumers want. Producers will have developed new strategies for delivering new products and services, the report says. More producers will be taking advantage of "vertical integration, direct marketing and long-term contract" business strategies.

The report will be publicly unveiled in January, during conferences held in conjunction with the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting, Jan. 8-11 in Nashville, Tenn.