Agricultural and farm jobs today are a lot more complicated than they were in 1900. Their technologies were simple and their methods laborious. Those involved in the agricultural sector at the turn of the last century invariably thought the same thing about those farming in 1800. Eventually, we get back to a time where flinging some seeds in the ground and praying to your chosen deity was the most technologically advanced way of securing a good harvest. Human beings, it seems, are far better at looking backward than we are looking forward. So what does the future look like and what will the farm jobs of the future be?
The current model is unsustainable
The global population is set to top 7 billion sometime soon meaning we’re going to run out of arable land and food before we run out of mouths to feed. Agricultural technicians joining the industry are going to need to find innovative ways to ensure that we have the space we need for crop growth. One of the ideas currently being expanded is vertical farming. Some crops don’t need to be farmed over large geographical areas, they are much better suited to being grown in skyscrapers. Vertical farming has begun to take off and the idea of futuristic farms nestling resplendently in the cities of tomorrow is one that has moved from science fiction to science fact relatively quickly.
As farmers of vertical indoor farms have complete control over the soil, the micro-climate and seed dispersion, it is no wonder that crop yield is up compared to traditional farming methods. Reduction in shipping and cost of delivery acts as a financial bonus for those who think vertically rather than horizontally. Agricultural workers who get into the job because they enjoy working outdoors in the elements may be in for an unpleasant surprise as the 21st Century continues. The effects of climate change are making the outside world an unpredictable place, and unpredictable means unprofitable. Those people who can help make sense of what climate change means for farmers are likely to be in great demand, particularly if they're prepared to work indoors.
The robots are coming
Another massive change coming to agricultural jobs is the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The digital age has seen huge advancements in technology and this is only going to increase over the next few decades. Farming has always been influenced by technology from the invention of the hoe, to the plough, to the combine harvester. Technology will ultimately determine what the agricultural jobs of tomorrow will look like.
A San Francisco company called Plenty Unlimited Inc is one of the industry leaders in agricultural technology. Their 50,000 square feet of farmland produces 2 million pounds of lettuce every year. The growing lettuce is overseen by 7,500 cameras and an additional 35,000 sensors checking air quality, humidity, temperature, and CO2 levels. This information is then fed back into an algorithm which makes micro-alterations to the variables.
As technology continues to get smarter, workers are going to have to develop new skills and a more nuanced understanding of the technologies being deployed. The future isn’t necessarily a dystopia in which human beings are not employed, it is far more likely that humans will work side by side with intelligent robots designed to make their jobs easier.
Consider ‘Angus’, a 1000 pound robot who does the heavy lifting for Iron Ox, a farming company in San Carlos, California. His movements are controlled by a central cloud-based-system and he is built with a bank of sensors to help him navigate. Angus may be the farm labourer of tomorrow.
Likewise, the ‘Hands-Free Hectare’ project run by Harper Adams University has been lauded as a success. With Government funding, a team managed to modify a tractor and use robotic drones and scouts to scoop soil samples and grew a field of barley from a remote location via video. The crop produced by the project was dubbed by Kit Franklin (project lead, and agricultural engineer) as ‘the most expensive hectare of barley ever’. It may not have been cost-effective, but it was a start and an interesting glimpse into where the future of farming might be. Automation seems inevitable and farmers in rural locations where labour is hard to come by may be somewhat relieved to hear this. There’s the very real possibility that a continuing fracturing of international diplomacy and a tendency of countries towards isolationism may cut off the unskilled migrant from taking up farm jobs such as fruit picking. Robots may be an expensive outlay as part of a farms set up cost but they may secure the future in uncertain times.
Those seeking jobs in the farming sector should think carefully about where they might fit in the farms of tomorrow. Biochemistry, climate specialists, roboticist and hydroponic specialists are likely to be in high demand. Tasks that are simple to perform, repetitive in nature or requiring great physical strength are likely to be outsourced to our metallic brethren.
None of us can really know where the technologies are going to lead us next. We can only make our best guesses and prepare our career choices accordingly. Human beings are always going to need some oversight in the world of farming, but how complex that oversight becomes and how involved they become in the day to day running of a farm, whether horizontal or vertical, will be a matter that we work out when the time comes. Innovation is currently our best survival strategy against a global catastrophe.
Where does this leave the average person looking for a farm job today? We can’t be sure. The industry and the world is in a constant state of flux and certainties are hard to come by. Future employees would do well to think about what farming will be like in 2100, what will those future farmers think about how we do agriculture today? If you want to work in the farm of tomorrow, you need to think clearly about how science is solving the problems of today.
Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are the worldwide leader in headhunting and recruitment for agricultural and farming positions. Take a look at our website today www.agriRS.co.uk to see what farming and agricultural jobs are available within the management sector and progress your career in the right direction. Alternatively, contact our team on 01905 345 155 or email us for more information at info@agriRS.co.uk