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State of the Plate

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Jan 252018

The 4 trends in ag you need to know for 2018

Technology and innovation are changing ag as we know it – but some of those changes might come as a surprise. In fact, in this high-tech time, find out why ancient grains and emotional connections with food are a priority for consumers.

CRISPR and Gene Editing

The issue: A game changing technology for the food industry, CRISPR has the ability to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering specific sections of DNA.

Points to know:

  • Is it GMO or not? Essentially, it depends on how you define GMO. CRISPR allows for the permanent modification of genes in living organisms in a way that is faster and more controllable than ever, but it does not require inserting a new gene from another organism.
  • Potential advantages of CRISPR include: keeps perishables fresher for longer, eliminates antibiotic resistance for safer food, improves quality of product in both taste and appearance, greater yields and profitability for producers.
  • Could it be the savior of cocoa and other plants? The cocoa tree is highly susceptible to disease and has very specific limitations pertaining to where it can be grown. Scientists have identified gene sequences that are both disease resistant and still flavorful, which could lead to higher yields and more efficient use of resources.
  • Gene editing techniques are gaining momentum, like Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs). This technology creates molecules that act as a template to match a specific sequence of DNA and then you can make a cut there, making it possible to “turn off” specific genes.
  • Gene editing techniques like CRISPR and TALENs have been tied to global sustainability, making it possible to create food more efficiently to supply the growing global population.

Digital Agriculture

The issue: Data and technology are rapidly changing traditional agriculture practices, and it’s not slowing down. What does this mean for producers, consumers and sustainability?

Points to know:

  • There will be questions about data ownership as tech takes over. Do satellite images of a farm belong to the farmer?
  • There will also be questions about how all this data can be most useful at the ground level and how farmers can use big data and precision tech to make smarter decisions for more productive yields.
  • Data is tied to consumer demand for transparency and how food is raised. It also impacts all food trends and how they will develop.
  • Vertical farming companies are on the rise in urban settings. They are looking to be made affordable by minimizing human labor, either through automated labor or downsizing to a select group of individuals. Some people fear the economic impact of replacing human labor with automated machines.

Continuation of Crop Specialization

The issue: Specialized foods such as organic, non-GMO, high-oleic, etc. continue to rise.

Points to know:

  • This is in part due to customer demand for increased transparency on labels, increased concern over how food is impacting health and increased knowledge of the industry.
  • Ancient grains, grains that have not been changed by selective breeding over the years, are on the rise. Proponents say these grains (barley, chia seeds, acai bowls, etc.) are higher in protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, while others say there are no major health benefits compared to other grains.
  • “Unusual” foods (e.g., purple cauliflower, purple potatoes, colored carrots, edamame noodles, etc.) are coming into play, further expanding the average grocery store’s selection of healthy produce, adding variety for consumers.
  • Selective breeding is producing animals with larger masses, providing more meat per animal than before.

Emotionally Connecting with Consumers

The issue: Food has always been a means to survive. It is now being consumed as a way of preventing illness and disease while promoting a happier, more active life.

Points to know:

  • We can’t talk about food like we used to because people depend on food and producers more than ever before. They rely on them for protection (from disease/illness) and look to food as a means of increasing their life span. It’s not just about feeling full anymore; it’s about supporting a healthy lifestyle.
  • GMO and animal welfare talks are also at the forefront of conversations with the rise of traceability. People care about how their food is produced and want to support companies that are doing what they perceive as right and moral.
  • Engaging on an emotional level also allows producers to preempt negative, incomplete messages about their brand.

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