Today, the JRC publishes results of a foresight study exploring what farming might look like in the coming decades and who will be working in agriculture in 2040, producing our food.
Taking account of current trends, the study expects that consumers will become yet more mindful of how their food is produced, while climate change and environmental degradation will make it more difficult to farm in general. Farmers will not be able to rely only on past methods to be successful in the future.
The study identifies 12 future farmer profiles, reflecting how farmers might adapt to these trends in various ways – and be joined by emerging profiles, such as ‘cell farmers’ and ‘controlled-environment farmers’.
The diversity of the profiles and emerging approaches could have a profound effect on the future landscape of farming, possibly disrupting established business models. The study identifies areas of focus for safeguarding the resilience of farming and food security in the future:
- coherent policies for a more diverse food system, with diverging approaches to environmental protection;
- enabling transformative resilience of farmers;
- managing more diverse and volatile networks by farmers;
- new forms of communication and linkages with citizens and consumers;
- reconsidering the traditional farmer identity;
- changing interdependencies between farmers and rural areas.
With attention paid to these areas, the study expects that farmers and farming will be active contributors to the sustainability transition by 2040, living up to societal expectations and being an active part of the solution.
Farmers of the future: 12 profiles
The foresight analysis brought farmers and agri-food stakeholders from industry, academia, civil society and government together to explore 14 megatrends and their potential impact on farming. The group considered possible future scenarios and created 12 profiles of the kinds of farmers likely to be working in an increasingly diverse agriculture sector by 2040.
The ‘adaptive’, ‘corporate’, ‘intensive’ and ‘patrimonial’ farmer profiles developed in the study take many of the well-established characteristics of European agriculture and project their evolution with the technological and socio-economic changes expected to come.
These changes include digitalisation and new biotechnologies, as well as the evolution of agricultural markets, consumption patterns and economic inequalities.
The ‘controlled environment’ and ‘cell-based’ profiles look at emerging, and potentially disruptive, technologies for food and other related production.
‘Social care’, ‘regenerative’ and ‘urban’ profiles explore social trends in more depth. These trends include urbanisation, health and wellness, community building, and redefining our relation to nature.
‘Lifestyle’, ‘serious hobby’ and ‘community-provisioning’ profiles converge around socio-cultural trends. These are trends like the changing nature of work, ‘back-to-the-land’ and slow food, informal knowledge, and informal governance networks.
The results of the study broaden the view on farmers and their possible future roles and realities, and provide useful evidence to explore the potential impact of policy measures. They are also a starting point and an invitation to continue the discussions on the future of farmers and agriculture in the EU.
The study also aims to help increase awareness and bring farming closer to other citizens. The material developed for the study will be made available and could be used as a basis for organising encounters between citizens and local farmers.
The results are presented today at the 2020 EU Agricultural Outlook conference, which brings together stakeholders to discuss the market prospects, including the political framework and uncertainties surrounding market developments in the next ten years. This year, the conference also reflects on the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis and looks at pathways to a green recovery.
Strategic foresight to explore possible futures
The Commission’s 2020 Strategic Foresight Report shows that action-driven strategic foresight is uniquely suited to inform decision-makers to drive the digital and green transitions and strengthen the EU’s resilience.
The JRC foresight team at the EU policy lab employs strategic foresight to explore long-term futures and create shared visions for policymaking. The team work across several policy areas, including agriculture, customs and energy.