What might farming look like in 2049?

A look into the future of agriculture in Australia


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Forecaster says living space in cities will shrink, with more people living in more compact spaces to preserve land for agriculture.

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Barrie Barton is an urban strategist and trend forecaster.

What is that? Good question. 

In layman's terms, Mr Barton helps governments and businesses imagine what the future may look like for their cities and help them plan how to manage their growth. 

To achieve this, Mr Barton attempts to strike a balance between data driven science, economics and an understanding of human nature and society. 

In 2017, he was commissioned to compile a report on what Australia may look like in 30 years time to help produce the dystopic world pictured on screen in the Blade Runner 2049 film. 

Mr Barton analysed current trends and statistics in technology, the environment, entertainment and home life. 

While the trends described were used to create an extreme version of our possible future, Mr Barton’s work has a great deal of real world significance. 

He outlines several alarming trends set to have a huge influence on Australian life by 2050.

One such trend, is urban sprawl. 

“When we start a future forecast we always begin on data. Looking at the recently released ABS census data on population growth we worked out in real terms that our big cities within Australia will grow to two times the size in terms of population by 2050,” he said. 

“Everyone from various levels of state government to the local councils on the fringes of our cities are concerned about the nasty habit Australia has of urban sprawl.

“You feel that sickening feeling when you drive out to the fringes of the city and the land is just so underutilized. Not agricultural, not urban. That kind of no mans land is a huge concern at every level of government.”

Mr Barton said the lazy use of abundant space presents a huge threat to the future of water and food security in both cities and rural areas. 

He says that living space in cities will also have to keep shrinking, with more people living in more compact spaces to preserve land.

Barrie Barton.

Barrie Barton.

The day of the city backyard may soon be over it seems. 

“There has to be some changes implemented at a government level to begin to reign in the type of planning that allows McMansions to spread out almost for eternity. We need to protect that agriculture land. Obviously for those people who make a living of that land, but for those in cities as well.”

The film Blade Runner 2049, which released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD, presents a world where environment has been degraded to the point of no return.

Human beings have seemingly given up on nature, opting instead for human-made microcosms that support life.

While this presents a very extreme outcome, Mr Barton said the trend forecast brought up some grave predictions on the state of our future environment based on current trends. 

“We have damaged the planet so much with our behaviour as a species to this point, that it is not enough to get back to zero. We need to restore the environment as we go.

“From our research on the leading edge of sustainability around the world right now, there seems to be a very exciting movement towards regenerative or restorative use of land.

“Fundamentally, we are seeing land users being more sensitive to natural eco-systems and work with them than imposing our will upon them.

“This type of movement could give sustainability a second coming. People talk about ‘green bashing’ and ‘green fatigue’ and to be honest, a lot of the rhetoric about sustainability has been very boring up to this point.”

Technological capability is moving so fast, everyone will have to consider the future of their form of employment.

With the population forecast for a sharp rise in the next three decades, and the area set aside for agriculture set to be tightened in coming years, the need for efficient food production will become greater than ever. 

“It is inevitable that we need to prepare to have many, many more mouths to feed. That will be tackled firstly on prime ag land, but also in the cities themselves.

“I admit that I laugh at urban farming at times, what is its true benefit? The amount of food produced by urban farms is microscopic compared to that produced on prime ag land. The reduction to the heat island effect is also reasonably modest.

“I think that the symbolism of urban farms is important. They can be a great vehicle for connecting city people to the importance of agriculture and nature, and broaden their understanding of the ecology of things that contribute to their lives.

“People in major cities can get caught up in their own little worlds and don’t realise the interdependence on regional areas.”

Mr Barton has also forecast a greater involvement of Smart Technology in the food production process. 

The development of smart technology in the domestic sphere will have a knock on affect into the production of food and agriculture. 

“Being able to measure things is the first step of being able to manage them. Our ability to understand the concept of supply and demand is increasing rapidly.

“Watching the tennis last night there was an ad for a fridge. This fridge was far more advanced and intelligent than my laptop. It orders food for you and it knows what you eat and it recommends recipes for you. That is taking the decision about what we eat and where it ultimately comes from out of the consumer and putting it into an algorithm.” 

While Mr Barton believes that a great deal of primary industries will continue to become more and more automated, he does not think this means a loss of human involvement in the process. 

“It is scary to think, when looking at the percentage of jobs which are set to be automated. The general pattern of things is that more manual work is the first to be gazumped by evolutions in technology.

“Technological capability is moving so fast, everyone will have to consider the future of their form of employment.

“Why do we work? I don’t think we work just to make money, I think we also work to find meaning in our lives. To hold a position in society and to feel like we are contributing. I think that just because something is technologically possible does not mean that a persons job is automatically going to be taken if they can find an automated way of doing it.”

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