Peering at the horizon, Part II

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After the unbelievable Miami-Ohio State football game ended in victory for the Buckeyes, we were mesmerized by the celebrations, the images of elation that the television transmitted for all to see. We waited to hear from the players, the coaches, and the Miami-favoring broadcasters.

When OSU coach Jim Tressel was questioned at the post-game news conference, once again he showed the nation what we who watched him at Youngstown State University already knew – that Tressel is a classy leader, teacher and motivator.

As one commentator observed, “Miami had the better athletes, but Ohio State had the better team.” And that is a direct result of Tressel’s leadership.

One comment Tressel made after the win sticks with me, and is a good springboard for the second installment of trends impacting agriculture that follows.

“Life is about what comes up next,” Tressel said.

Life isn’t about past laurels, what happened last year or even last week, life is about what happens next. Life, as John Lennon also said, is also what happens to you when you’re making other plans.

So these trends may seem far-fetched, or unrelated to your world, but they’re what is happening to you while you’re making other plans.

Last week, we tapped into water issues, nanotechnology (think small, really small), biometric scanning for identification, designer foods and tomorrow’s power (fuel-cell-powered vehicles). Here’s the rest of the top 10 list, in no particular order:

* 6. (Un)Happy trails. Sharpen your pencil, keep a notepad handy or buy a PalmPilot hand-held computer – you’ll have to track everything on your farm from calf identification to wind direction.

Manure management and application, pesticide use, biotech crops planted and now country-of-origin labeling – plus other farm management tasks – all require a verifiable paper audit trail that starts down on the farm.

* 7. The ‘eco-economy.’ Future generations will push an economy that’s kinder, gentler to Mother Earth. Instead of an agrarian economy or a manufacturing economy, think of an economy that’s “environmentally sustainable.”

Rising affluence means wealthier consumers, and wealthier consumers demand cleaner, more environmentally friendly practices.

The push into a greener world will breed new opportunities: fish farming, tree planting, fuel-cell and solar-cell manufacturing, environmental architects, recycling experts.

* 8. Speed of life. Americans are time-starved. We don’t want to cook, clean or shop. We don’t have time to can, freeze or bake. Just look at the food items on the grocery shelves that continue to cut preparation time.

And look at the rise of the Swiffer and Grab-It type polishing cloths – now there’s Pledge wipes, Clorox wipes and Glass Plus wipes.

Innovations far surpass the pace of modern life – if you think your life moves fast, innovations move faster. Tapping into the time clock could be a boon for agriculture. How can we help time-challenged consumers?

A University of Akron survey, conducted in conjunction with the OARDC, found consumers “would buy more locally grown produce if it was more convenient to obtain.”

* 9. Property rights. It’s certainly not a new issue, but a discussion of property rights is always sure to be a heated one at the dinner table. When does individual welfare bow in favor of community welfare?

Increasing environmental, social and political concerns are pushing more private property rights issues into the forefront. The debate is not going to go away.

* 10. Government vs. market. What role should government play in agricultural policies? Ahh, that’s the $64,000 question. Will it be U.S. ag policies or the marketplace that gives the best signals to producers?

“The risk to U.S. agriculture today,” says University of Idaho expert Neil Meyer, “is that if we produce for government programs in the short run, it will help us to survive a bit longer, but key markets may be taken by producers who are more sensitive to consumer needs.”

“In the long run, consumers go to the suppliers who provide what they desire.”

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