We often fail to recognize just how rich and spoiled we’ve become. The upward affluence trajectory, happening in much of the world, is having a profound impact on what people want from agriculture.
Futurist Lowell Catlett from New Mexico State University recently told the Managing Excellence in Agriculture conference in Saskatoon, that recessions happen from time to time and what we’ve seen over the past year is nothing compared to the hardships people endured in past economic downturns.
Meanwhile, in countries like China and India, millions of consumers are becoming middle class with more disposable income than ever before.
Catlett does an excellent job of portraying the generational shift in attitudes. Our parents, the parent’s of baby boomers, typically led a life with few frills. Most were concerned with just putting food on the table and keeping the family clothed and sheltered.
They knew all about tough times and making do.
Baby boomers have lived in much more affluent times and therefore our demands and expectations are far different. Rather than just nutritious food for sustenance, there’s demand for organic, free range, slow food, food with a smaller carbon footprint, and food that can address health problems.
Catlett calls it “dream space.” We have the luxury of wanting far more from agriculture and successful producers are the ones who cater to these new trends.
Most farmers sell into commodity markets. Most of us don’t produce organically and we never really interact with our end-use customers. But we’re affected nonetheless. From livestock ID programs to animal welfare protocols to market access issues with genetically modified crops, consumer desires, whims and fears are affecting the marketplace.
Catlett points out that 20 years ago, the No. 1 determinant for ranchland values in the western side of the U. S. and Canada was the quantity and quality of the forage the land could produce.
Now the No. 1 price determinant is proximity to a destination or vacation resort.
Catlett tells a story of a farmer selling small square bales to women with horses. They’d come by to pick up a few bales at a time, putting them in the back of their SUV. Their biggest complaint was cleaning up the bits of hay that fell off the bales.
The producer started wrapping the bales in plastic and even though he charged exorbitant prices, his sales increased. Convenience sells.
Catlett also tells about high-end food markets in France, where there’s a picture of the farmer who provided the beef. You can call the farmer to get assurances that his cattle live happy lives.
We can dismiss this as weird or we can imagine the possibilities. After all, the consumer is always right.
Agriculture, the environment and human health are linked like never before.
As well, people have a basic need to be around plants and animals. You don’t always find that in the concrete jungle of our cities. See any opportunities for agriculture?
The modern, affluent consumer is much more likely to treat companion animals as members of the family. Pet food is a huge market.
Catlett says the world has abundance the likes of which it has never seen. The biggest profits won’t be in basic food commodities. The big money will be in the products that cater to the values and the dreams of affluent consumers.
Kevin Hursh is a consulting agrologist and farmer based in Saskatoon. He can be reached at [email protected]