The eccentric looking successful US investor, Jim Rogers thinks farming could be one of the most profitable industry if the future. He told me: “It’s going to be the farmers who are driving Lamborghinis. The smart MBAs and stock brokers will learn to drive tractors and they will learn to drive tractors for the farmers. We‘re going to have a dramatic shift, we‘re going to have serious food shortages. I‘m talking about real famine, the kind that you read about in the Bible and your history book. There are going to be dramatic food shortages coming up which is one of the reasons that farming is going to be such a major industry and exciting profession.”
That if course is a very dramatic and stark prediction of the future. If true it will mean huge hardship for millions and of course a fundamental change in the balance of economic power.
The US is arguable the most successful farming nation in the world and so I have come here to Texas to see what innovations farmers both big and small are coming up with to prepare them for the future.
The farmers are already facing huge environmental
problems. According to the UN, every year, between 20,000 – 50,000 sq km of arable land is lost due to soil degradation. While land is a major issue, so is water, Agriculture swallows up around 70% of our useable global water supply and it takes 3,000 litres of water to produce one persons daily food intake.
To see how they are coping with those challenges I’ve come to a huge farm, stretching as far as the eye can see. With me are five Texans each with their own monster pick-up truck. We are looking at how new irrigation techniques are helping the farmers control their crops and increase output.
Wandering around the farm looking for good filming spots,
I hear myself telling the producer, “Look there is a real cowboy” as I watch a man in a Stetson walk John Wayne like through fields of cotton. He’s not on a horse but he walks as if he just got off one. It’s a slow pondering wide legged gamble and I half expect him to spit some tobacco and shout howdi.
This is the middle of the bible belt and in keeping with that, there is no alcohol on sale for miles around. The farmers offer to get us lunch and I rather sheepishly explain that despite being in cattle country, I am a vegetarian butt they shouldn’t worry if they don’t have anything for me. They promise to have a look and drive off. Half an hour later they come back with a huge bags of burgers and a salad.
As I start eating I notice my salad has bacon in it. “That’s a Texan vegetarian meal” I’m told as that was the thing with the least amount of meat available.
These are some of the most hospitable friendly people I have met on any of my trips around the world. They are quiet hard working men who are clearly trying hard to make us welcome.
They are at the sharp end of a problem which is affecting many parts of the world. More land is being lost to urbanisation and soil degradation – at the same time water is becoming scarcer and climate change is making the seasons less predictable. So the pressure is on to produce more food from limited resources.
Texas is suffering its worst drought in nearly 100 years, and the underground lake is running dry.
Already this year, drought has cost the State $5.2 billion.
One way of tackling the problem is a more efficient method of irrigation. What at first glance looks like the simple job of watering crops, is becoming a fine applied science.
I’ve come to see how one company is trying to provide a water solution. Lindsay Irrigation has been working on the problem for over 50 years. Their Zimmatic irrigation pivot enables farmers to increase crop yields while using less water, energy, labor and chemicals.
Using a mobile phone to connect to the Internet, I send an instruction to a huge array of automatic watering arms that cover all the fields I can see to the Horizon. Slowly the arms respond to my instruction and careful and precise irrigation begins to happen.
Instead of spraying the crops the water is drip fed onto the plants, ensuring that as much water as possible reaches the roots and is not lost in evaporation or run-off. It’s a simple idea but the farmers claim it revolutionises their water usage and dramatically improves crop production. The company claims that more than 100,000 Lindsay Zimmatic automated irrigation systems are irrigating millions of hectares of cropland worldwide.
It’s hard standing in the fields with my new Texan friends, to think that this is the new growth industry. It’ a stretch to believe, as Jim Rogers does, that the farrmers I am standing with could be the new dot com style millionaires of the future. But if he is right, it will no doubt be the biggest shift in the world economy seen in a lifetime.