In the past couple weeks, I've had several opportunities to engage with some forward looking farmers and agribusiness executives, and a common theme seems to have emerged around many of the conversations: what are the issues or food and agricultural technologies on the horizon that could be potentially disruptive for the current incumbents?
1) Block chain technology. This isn't bitcoin, but rather the underlying technology that facilitates bitcoin trades, which could be applied to many other industries. This Reuters article from earlier in the week, for example, indicates, "A cargo of U.S. soybeans shipped to China has become the first fully-fledged agricultural trade conducted using blockchain." The thought is that blockchain technology might prove to be a mechanism that can more rapidly disseminate many types of information about trades (the Reuters article mentions the "sales contract, letter of credit and certificates") more widely and rapidly. Big players like Walmart and IBM are also talking about using blockchain to improve traceability and food safety.
2) Plant-based and cellular-based protein. This is a topic I've written about many times in the past (e.g., here or here). What's changed is the high level of investment flowing into this space, including by companies like Tyson and Cargill. Moreover, there are now products from companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, JUST, and others that are actually in the market. If sales ramp up, what are the impacts on producers of current animal feeds (primarily corn and soy)? What are the new agricultural inputs for these plant-based meat/egg/dairy alternatives?
3) CRISPR. Again, the basic science isn't necessarily new, but there are new applications coming on board (non-browning apples, hornless Holsteins, etc.) and potential changes in the regulatory landscape that could accelerate (or decelerate) adoption and consumer acceptance.
4) Agricultural analytics. This includes precision agriculture, sensing, big data, drones, modeling, etc. Yes, these have been around for a while and there have been many discussions about data ownership and rights, but there is a sense that the data and technology have moved to a point where some adopters may be able to start gaining a competitive advantage.
5) Online food buying. Will Amazon do to the food supply chain what they've done in other industries? Walmart is also making big moves into this space. What are the implications for traceability, tracking, and vertical market coordination?
6) Trade. Agricultural trade has a big impact on US agriculture, and it appears there may be changes in trade policy on the horizon.
What have I missed?