Is that a bot with my soup?

    It’s been a long week. You’re tired, but you need groceries. Not to worry. No need to leave your abode. Order what you need online, click on delivery and the next thing you know, a bot is at your door with your weekly groceries.

    The bot is not in the picture yet, but Rob Dongoski, Chicago Farmers’ May 14 speaker, said that the bot in this application is not an impossibility. He noted that the United States spends $5 billion a year on ag tech, and the use of robotics in all phases of food production and delivery is not relegated to daydreamers. He said there is a lot of conversation about the use of drones, robots and wearable sensors. Goggles that can produce fields in virtual reality are among ag tech’s newest developments. “I think you will see some application of these goggles in the next four or five years,” said Dongoski.

    Dongoski, Partner and Global Agribusiness Leader at Ernst & Young LLP, said that by 2015, agriculture will have to feed 40% more people, and different kinds of food will be in demand as people in developing countries acquire more money.

    Global markets are alive and well, said Dongoski, and EY is looking at megatrends. He said there are a number of mergers that are quite large, such as the Dow/DuPont $130 billion merger in 2015. “Three of the five largest acquisitions from 2011 to 2015 dealt with food and beverage companies,” Dongoski shared.

    Regarding the future of agriculture, Dongoski said EY is seeing investments shift to the biotech side. Technology is seen as the way to produce more and healthier food in a more efficient manner. This technology also will help agriculture become more productive in areas of the world that do not have a robust agricultural economy. Dongoski noted that by 2100, 7 of the 10 largest cities in the world are projected to be in Africa.

    While more farms are needed, Dongoski related that urbanization is leaving a void on farms. He commented, “Children are not staying on the farms; they don’t want to be in a rural environment.” He noted that because it is difficult to realize profits with small farms, the farms now are getting bigger due to consolidation. He is seeing more farm operations that range from 10,000 to 20,000 acres. Will anyone own 20,000 to 30,000 acre farms? “People who are serious about farming and see it as a profitable business will act to own these large operations,” said Dongoski. He also noted that with the move to larger acreage, the future is moving quickly to autonomous equipment.

    A rapid change also is coming regarding the farmer’s source for advice. “Advice about agronomy is shifting from the local guy to data science,” said Dongoski. “The potential coming down the road is making retailers nervous.”

    An audience member voiced concern about the accuracy of the data that would be available to farmers. Dongoski said there is not a mechanism currently in place that can guarantee the accuracy. “There is a lot of work to do regarding this issue,” he said. “We have to know who owns the data, what is it worth and who wants to consume the data. Security and fraud protection have to be in place.”