Posts Tagged future

Canada’s emerging technologies metascan Robert Hickson Apr 09

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The Canadian Government’s just released a report on emerging technologies. It looks out over the next 15 years and focuses on digital technologies, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and neuroscience technologies, which they consider have the potential for disruptive rather than incremental innovation. As you’d expect they consider biological enhancements, nanofactories, robots, wired-up everything.

There are no major surprises in their findings. Some of which include:

  • fewer carbon-based workers, but greater productivity
  • many areas of the economy will need to adapt as the technologies spread out across the sectors
  • the need to look at regulatory and risk management practices and requirements
  • the need to develop a better “innovation ecosystem” [the policy-speak du jour]

The report examines the impacts across a range of sectors – agriculture, manufacturing, services, energy, transportation, home, etc. The intention is to stimulate discussion, rather than predict.

The report is only 45 pages long and readable. It provides a good overview of some of the technologies and how they are or may be applied. They include a range of videos to illustrate some of the trends and developments. It would be nice to see New Zealand do something similar to help inform and stimulate discussion here.

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology’s Biotechnologies to 2025 [Pdf], produced nearly a decade ago, was a great example of creative and  good quality futures analysis government agencies can (but rarely do) produce. It would be nice to refresh and broaden the scope of that report (which I had a small role in helping to develop) so the country as a whole can better consider what we may be facing.

The Royal Society’s recent green economy information paper is aimed at such informing, but it would be great to see the bigger picture and interconnections across the economy rather than just sector-specific analyses.

What I liked most about the Canadian report, and still need to delve into, are the visualisations they produced in conjunction with a company called Envisioning which estimate timeframes for some of the developments. Business Insider has made these zoomable, which is quite handy.

envisioning future tech

Envisioning’s composite visualisation of emerging technologies (



A sufficiency of trends Robert Hickson Nov 21

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Two recent reports highlight a range of trends affecting governments, but they take different approaches. The report from IBM – Six Trends Driving Change in Government – has a focus on the US but the trends are generally applicable.

Their six (some more accurately considered drivers rather than trends) relate to:

  • Performance – using data to inform “real-time” decision making on strategic goals
  • Risk – fiscal constraints and complex operating conditions create the need to adopt different cultures and frameworks to be better able to assess and managing emerging public sector risks
  • Innovation – rapid change in technologies and operating models, processes and services means that the public sector needs a better “culture of innovation” – experimentation, alignment of innovations with agency missions, connection with non-government innovators, and monitoring of outcomes
  • Mission – centralisation of organisation-support functions (HR, IT, finance) can lead to detachment from key agency goals. There are opportunities to better link these support functions to organisational goals or missions.
  • Efficiency – financial constraints are prompting a rethink of traditional processes. Technologies can help improve efficiencies and service deliveries, but there is a need to be transparent about costs, savings and outcomes.
  • Leadership – public sector leaders are adopting different ways of working with each other collaboratively.

The other report – from the Mowat Centre and KPMG – comes up with nine “Global Megatrends Shaping Governments” . They take a bigger picture view, examining:

  • Demographics – longer lives and fewer kids in the west are placing pressure on health and social welfare
  • Growing individualism – increasing demand for transparency and broader participation in public decision-making
  • Technology – ICT creating new types and styles of work and opportunities, while also challenging organisational performance and oversight
  • Increasing economic interconnectedness – leading to more trade, capital and labour flows, and creating the need for better policy and regulatory connections between states.
  • Rising public debt – will constrain what governments are able to do in the face of social, economic and environmental challenges
  • Shifting geopolitical power – will affect existing international institutions and agreements, and may challenge existing comparative economic advantages of some countries.
  • Climate change – will influence economic, political, and social activities and aspirations. Adapting and mitigating effects will require both national and international cooperation, and longer-term planning.
  • Increased resource stresses – rising energy, mineral, food, and water demands will challenge governments abilities to maintain prosperity and develop sustainably
  • Spreading urbanization – can also place stresses on infrastructure, services, resources and the environment

These, of course, aren’t discrete but can interact with and influence others, and the megatrends in the Mowat report are often the factors influencing IBM’s six trends/drivers.

The common factors between these two reports (and other recent trend reports – like Ernst & Young’s Six Global Trends Shaping the Business World, and Rick Boven’s transcribed speech posted on Sciblogs) are significant demographic, energy, economic and geopolitical changes, rapid developments in information and communication technologies, and the global financial crisis.

All recognise that new governance and business models are necessary to adapt to these changes. They provide steps to be taken, or questions to be asked that are designed to encourage the changes. Though I expect they are probably sceptical of the abilities for many governments (and some sectors) to change quickly and consistently enough. History shows us that there’s no ideal, clear sighted and committed government that has done this. Democracies, in particular, wander back and forth between successes and failures.

But you’ve gotta try. And the Mowat Centre report is good at identifying some of the policy, regulatory, program, strategy, structural and skill changes that they think are necessary.

What’s starting to worry me, though, is the growing number of these reports that are appearing – each with an overlapping, but slightly different, set of trends and drivers, and pitched to slightly different sectors. While they usually point out the increasing uncertainties in our future as we move from decades of relative stability and certainty, there’s the risk that setting out a nice set of six or so trends and helpful key questions will give a false sense of managerial comfort to the overworked executives.

The trends are a starting point for more detailed thought and engagement. What’s needed are fewer reports and more action (hah, you say, that’s ironic coming from a blogger, and former/future consultant – you have a point).

Before a gaggle of other government departments and industry sectors get enthused (or not) about creating their own trends reports, scenarios, roadmaps, strategic action plans, etc. lets stop. There’s certainly been a lot of duplication, and unnecessary expenditure, producing similar data sets and reports.

New Zealand is small enough and well connected enough that a common set of trends and scenarios (or other tools for imagining potential futures) should be generally applicable for many planning purposes, as well as having the benefit of illustrating that we’re all in this together. The major trends and drivers that I think most have some agreement over (demographics, energy, technologies, social changes, etc) will be important (perhaps in different ways) to the public and private sectors. Neither sector is isolated from the other and will need to collaborate to meet some of the challenges and create some of the desired futures.

So lets get a few well informed and influential people together from a representative range of sectors and groups to craft a common set of futures scenarios and critical questions for the whole country to think about, discuss, argue and act upon with more of a collective purpose. Or maybe a couple of sets, competition can be good. Save money and have the broader discussions that we need to have, rather than concentrating on own own narrower bespoke set of trends and possible futures. This appraoch can help address those needs to address performance, risk, mission, efficiency and leadership that the IBM report notes.

We seem to have the ability to quickly become proficient discussing sailing (or soccer, netball, etc) terms and strategies when we think it matters. Lets put some of that passion and energy into cheering on our future.


[Thanks to John P for putting some of these thoughts into my head]

Now for the Long Term Robert Hickson Oct 21

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The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations have just released a report – Now for the Long Term.  In addition to laying out the megatrends and challenges facing the world, they also propose some solutions.




The report does a generally good job in setting out concisely some of the  ”megatrends” (ie long lasting trends that are likely to have significant, but not immediately apparent impacts), although the discussion on technology megatrends is disappointingly mostly about information technologies.

It links these megatrends to five types of challenges that are likely to shape the future of human societies:

  • How can growth and development be made more sustainable and inclusive?

  • How can food, energy, water and biodiversity be made more secure?

  • How can public health infrastructure and processes respond to the needs of all?

  • How can power transitions be the basis of fresh forms of collaboration?

  • How can businesses, institutions and governments contribute to more inclusive and sustainable growth?

The second part of the report looks back to see if there are historical precedents for how societies have handled crises well or badly. I found this section, by summarising a range of different events and developments – involving past crises, shared interests, leadership, inclusive governance, and collaborative institutions – particularly useful. Some of the examples include the global financial crisis, genocides in Somalia and Rwanda, Y2K, the EU’s Single Market Programmes, the Helsinki Accords, the Montreal Protocol banning ozone-depleting chloro-fluoro carbons, tobacco control, and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations.

I got the sense though that the examples were, unsurprisingly, chosen to support their proposals for how to address the challenges.

The report does a very good job in highlighting that there isn’t a quick and easy fix to what we, the world, are facing. They note the factors that make change hard are:

  • 20th century structures and institutions are poorly equipped for 21st century challenges

  • Political and business timeframes encourage short-sightedness

  • Declining trust in politics and limited opportunities for constructive public engagement

  • Issues are becoming more complex and evidence may be less certain

  • Cultural barriers within and between societies are a big hinderance

Their proposed solutions are neither easy, nor often particularly appealing or exciting at first (or even second) glance. They place a lot of emphasis on developing standards, having better data, and greater transparency.

More multi-stakeholder partnerships – what they call a “Coalition of the Working – bringing together countries, companies and cities to counteract climate change. While of some merit, I feel their selection of which groups to involve is restrictive. Only companies affiliated with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, for example. No constructive NGOs or smaller community organisations that could have useful experience and insights to contribute.

They also propose the creation of new, or at least re-invigorated, global institutions, that focus on long-term resilience. Not exciting stuff, but they do point to existing institutions that can form the basis of the new ones.

Other proposal include:

  • Reduce fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies.
  • Establish a Voluntary World Taxation and Regulatory Exchange so to encourage harmonise taxation systems for multinational corporations are more transparent about .
  • Implement existing proposals for long term accounting frameworks, so that there isn’t a bias against future generations.
  • Develop a long-Term Index to measure governance.
  • Break inter-generational poverty through greater focus on social protection schemes.
  • Address the youth unemployment crises.
  • Articulate a common global vision and shared values for global civilisation.

All in all a liberal agenda. Some, like a common global vision, may be unachievable, or of little actual utility even if they were.

The Commission responsible for the report is impressive, but in my view would benefit from having a few more hard-headed business leaders involved.

As a Guardian columnist noted following the report’s release, building more institutions may not create the most agile, innovative and effective means of addressing some of the problems. But she also noted that currently available alternatives made her queasy too.

Still, as Rick Boven noted in his Guest Work here on Sciblogs, the top down approach by itself won’t work. More attention could be paid to the ability of individuals and small(-ish) groups to effect change at the local level.

The report does a good job of indicating where we can pick up on some smaller scale activities and institutions that may work at larger scale. But that isn’t a given. With the scale and range of challenges we are facing, more experimenting rather than lock-in is necessary. However, time and money for exquisitely designed randomised controlled trials isn’t available.

The Oxford Martin Commission is to be commended for bringing together a lot of information into a useful compilation, and suggesting solutions. They may not be the best solutions, but they can stimulate the discussions and thinking.

My question to the Commission is “what next?” A lot of effort went into the report, what’s your encore? There is no indication of that at the moment.

Trends in manufacturing Robert Hickson Sep 09


Boeing’s Dreamliner has 6.5 million lines of software code for onboard systems support. It’s a very complicated aircraft.

The new Chevy Volt – a humble little hybrid car – has 10 million lines.

That says a lot about the direction of travel of transportation in particular, and manufacturing more generally.

Simon Arnold noted in his comments to my previous blog post that some of the large R&D manufacturing initiatives in NZ are focused on the here and now problems of firms, rather than developing capabilities for future needs. Some will dispute that point – I know Scion has done a lot to try and alert the forestry sector to opportunities in bioproduct manufacturing.

What is a possible future for manufacturing? The McKinsey Global Institute looked at just this topic last year.

They note that manufacturing, like many other sectors, is going through considerable change.  Technology, supply factors, demand and policy are all influencing manufacturing, creating greater risks and uncertainties.

New materials, robotics, additive manufacturing techniques (such as 3D printing), the rapidly increasing use of sensors (as part of the product as well as in the processing and distribution chains), and the ability to design and model performance virtually are opening up new opportunities for manufactured products and processes.

“Green manufacturing” ,where the whole lifecycle of the product and its production is considered, is being taken seriously by leading firms. This is driven partly by consumer demand, but also by the desire to improve resource use by firms, so that they save money. As with “food miles”, there is likely to be a growing interest in properly valuing the costs of raw materials in manufactured products.

Some are even suggesting we are moving into a glucose-based manufacturing economy.

As products become increasingly sophisticated so the supply chains become more complex, and harder to manage. Firms are starting to design manufacturing processes and supply chains that are more resilient – both to natural disasters as well as failures of suppliers. Agile operations that are able to quickly respond, and prepare for, changes will be more successful.

Volatile energy and raw material markets influence company strategies. Government policies (or lack there of, or their inconsistency) can also add to the uncertainty of the operating environment.

Demand for major manufactured commodities may increase by 30 – 80% as the global population continues to grow. This will open up of new opportunities in the emerging markets. Within and between markets there are also growing demands for greater customization of products to meet local needs. More sophisticated and customized products are leading to greater demand by customers seeking services (training, software support, etc) from manufacturers, not just products.

And, there is intense competition for highly skilled workers in the manufacturing sectors. Capital markets may also become tougher.

The McKinsey report states that its a whole new manufacturing world and that:

“manufacturing companies need to develop new muscles”


To be a global manufacturing company means that greater collaboration internationally will be required, and that firms need to develop a much better understanding of their different markets so they can tailor their products and supply chains accordingly. McKinsey point out that China isn’t a single market, but at least 22 different markets.

The profiles of some of NZ’s existing “High Tech” manufacturing firms are available in MBIE’s recent sector report [Pdf].

If NZ want’s to remain a viable niche player in the global manufacturing scene then firms (and government) need to think hard about the changing manufactured world, and how we can develop and attract the skilled people who will be needed. Universities and CRIs can and should help local firms meet their immediate needs, but they also need to help those firms see further ahead and support them in developing the capabilities they are going to require.

If factories in a box become common, what will be the valuable niches where NZ firms can thrive in? As Simon pointed out in response to my previous post, we need to be producing high value “weightless” products and services because we are a long way from the key markets.

One opportunity I see is in extending the sophisticated computational modelling skills developed by the Auckland’s Bioengineering Institute into the manufacturing sector to help design and prototype sophisticated manufactured products, as well as to design resilient supply chains and life cycle analyses.


Giving futurism a bad name – political visions of France in 2025 Robert Hickson Aug 20

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Those Frenchies and their visions. I wrote a while back about a series of french postcards imagining the future 100 years forward. Now their politicians are getting into the act, but with less temporal vision. A week is a long time in politics, so I guess that looking ahead 10 years could seem like a century to them.

The idea of thinking ahead is good, naturally. But President Hollande’s holiday assignment for his Ministers was, as we say in Google Translate, “cuits“.* Having a vision is the easy part, figuring out how to move toward that state is harder, and really thinking about what is plausible is even harder. The last two don’t seem to have been asked of them. Bring in les professionnels, s’il vous plait.

The pillorying they are getting in the press may put them off thinking seriously beyond the next few election cycles, and could discourage other countries too. That would be terrible.


* undercooked

The awakening lions – Africa in 85 years Robert Hickson Jul 18

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While there is a lot of attention on the rising power of China, the stuttering development of India, and the potential of Brazil and Russia, think ahead to Africa.

The Washington Post has written a nice piece about the rising demographic might of Africa, based on UN projections. Barring major catastrophes (famine, disease, war, environmental collapse, or all of the above) the population of sub-saharan Africa may quadruple to over 4 billion by Century’s end.

UN Population projections

Click on the chart for a larger interactive version.

This is driven by the high birth rates in many African countries, relative to the declining ones in the West and many Asian countries. Nigeria alone could have 1 billion people by 2100.

Economies as well as populations are also rapidly increasing. Six of the ten fastest growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa (although this can be partly ascribed to the very low economic base they started from). An analysis by the Boston Consulting Group and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative shows that some African countries are also doing remarkably well in translating strong economic growth into improved well-being. Others haven’t translated rising GDP so equitably.

The turn around in the fortunes of some African countries has been attributed by Steven Radelet to a range of factors – greater democratization, improved economic policies, debt eduction, new technologies (particularly mobile phones), and a new generation of leaders. Edward Miguel also adds in education. The wealth of highly desirable natural resources that lie within Africa have also played a considerable role (and will continue to).

Many of the multinational consulting firms are helping educate firms about the opportunities in Africa. Z-punkt, my favourite foresight company, is providing a service to assist firms with their decision making [Pdf].

Looking at the travails of India it is clear to see that having a democratic system of governance by itself isn’t sufficient to create equitable economic and social well being.

There is a growing African middle class, although, as in many other countries, growing inequalities can be a significant risk. A renewable energy revolution also appears to be underway. This has the spillover benefits of improving education and health.

Its not all golden glow though. There are still many corrupt and poorly governed countries, rising ethnic and religious tensions, rapacious habitat destruction and resource stripping, lack of infrastructure, health care and education, crippling food and water shortages, and plenty of nasty diseases.

While the rapid adoption of mobile phones, and the social and economic innovations flowing from this, is bringing great benefits to Africa, Ndubuisi Ekekwe has sounded a note of caution. Too great a focus on information technology in Africa may be blinding politicians, business people and students to the need to also build capabilities in mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and many other areas of technology.

Smart politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders here and elsewhere need to avoid developing a short-sighted view of our future economic and geopolitical partners. The “dark continent” is likely to be much more bright in the medium to long term.


In case your interested, here’s how NZ and Australia’s population projections look using the UN data.




Australia’s population may double, while NZ’s hovers around 6 million. Plenty of opportunities and challenges for NZ nearer to home too if these projections turn into reality.






Do futurists have a future? Robert Hickson Mar 21

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Obviously, I’m going to answer yes. Though we seem underutilised in New Zealand at the moment.

Increasingly, as with many other areas, data crunching is being used to attempt to predict the future, or at least help to do so. Media reports are starting to use the term “Nate Silver” as a verb when discussing data analytics. There is an expectation, or hope, by some that with more data and sophisticated analyses will come more accurate predictions.

Recorded Future provides a service where data (media reports, tweets, analyses, etc from the internet) on particular topics or issues (such as whether electronics manufacturer Foxconn will move production away from China) are collected and organised into a timeline to assist analysis. It also provides some network analysis to help explore the information. If you register on their website you can browse some of their searches, but subscription for greater access is US$149/month. Business Insider gives a short overview of the company. 

Quid combs patents, company info, etc to help identify technology trends and market opportunities for paying customers.

An article in Foreign policy (Registration required) discusses the use of data analytics to look for future political events (not just elections). There are mixed views on the likelihood of success.

The Pentagon is also taking a big data approach to see if it can spot when soldiers are likely to go rogue. It can’t do that yet, and could run into legal problems if it tries to. But it may be able to improve its training regimes through such studies.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is trying out a range of human and computational approaches to improve intelligence analysis.

Richard Danzig has already warned [Pdf] about placing too much reliance on predictions in relation to national security. He advocates the need to focus prediction on the short term and foster preparedness for the unexpected. IARPA recognises limitations in their approach, but are seeking to reduce uncertainty about what events are predictable and which aren’t.

As Garry Kasparov pointed out for machine-assisted chess competitions, middling humans working with middling computers but with a very good process for combining the strengths of both beats powerful computers alone as well as chess grand masters using computers ineffectively. The CIA also demonstrated many years ago that more information doesn’t always make intelligence analysis more accurate, it just enhances the confidence the analyst has in their predictions.

As analytical software improves computers will hopefully play a greater role in organising and exploring data themselves and finding meaningful information for the task at hand. The value a futurist provides (for the moment at least) is in helping frame the right questions to ask of the information, being able to identify what the most relevant pieces of information may be, and going some way to addressing the “so what?” questions that arise.



A fictional timeline of the future Robert Hickson Nov 28

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In an earlier post I noted how optimistic some early 19th Century visions of the future were. I wondered then whether we are getting more pessimistic. Now there is some real data to play with. Brain Pickings has published an infographic from Giorgia Lupi called A visual timeline of the future based on famous fiction.


The figure characterises stories as having an overall positive, negative or neutral perspective about the time in which they are set, and tags the stories theme as being primarily about the environment, science, technology, society, travel/adventure or politics. I don’t know what criteria they used to decide what was positive or negative, but I’ll take that as face value. Sixty two stories (novels, short stories, and comics) are covered, so it isn’t a comprehensive review. Some of the most prolific authors (such as Issac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein) only have a couple of stories in the graphic, and some well know authors are absent (George Orwell, Ursula Le Guin).  The analysis is also skewed to having a relatively large proportion of the stories being published in the last two decades.


Stories by decade

But what the hell, you can still extract superficial impressions. (And apologies for he graphs being on the small size, there is no goldilocks zone for image size in Word Press).

There are three times more “negative” (29) views of the future than “positive” (10), with the neutral stories (23) sitting in between them. The 2000′s seem a pretty glum time to be writing about the future based on this sample, while the 1950′s produced a cheerier ouevre. But overall, you can’t claim that science fiction has taken a more, or less, positive trajectory over the past 60 years.



Positivity and negativity over the decades


Stories focused on the environment and society in the future tend to be more negative, while ones about travel to other planets have a more even handed perspective. The degree of social dystopia isn’t surprising, but if you just watch sci fi movies you may be surprised at the number of less negative stories about the future environment (and science & technology).

Stories by tone and theme


As a posting by David Levine noted a couple of years ago, science fiction tends to mirror recent social issues, and they are mostly hopeless at predicting what will happen.

Future Postcards From The Past Robert Hickson Oct 17

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The Singularity Hub shows some 19th Century French Postcards (relax/sorry, nothing risqué) that depicted life in the year 2000. I’ve seen a couple of these previously (the blog site Paleofuture posted a few of them several years ago), but Singularity Hub shows a more extensive set, along with comments about how accurate some of them seem to have been. Robotic machines feature frequently.

The postcards were created after, and presumably inspired by, some of Jules Verne’s stories. The cards (originally 50 in total) weren’t apparently distributed – they were intended to be included as inserts in either some toys or cigarette packets, according to Isaac Asimov who rediscovered them.

One of the striking things about the postcards (and other attempts at sketching the future) is not the accuracy (or lack thereof) of the predictions, but how the environment and clothing in the pictures usually remains unchanged. So not a fancy Roomba-like vacuum cleaner, just a semi- autonomous good old fashioned scrubbing brush (wireless not yet invented). And 19th Century clothing and parquet flooring.

Jean-Marc Côté’s vision of the year 2000

That illustrates some of the traps in foresighting – extrapolating from the current situation, and focussing on the technology rather than also considering how the environment in which it will sit will also change.

The postcard of the school of the future is also a delight – not quite what Google has in mind, I hope, for digitising books. Or how National Standards will play out.


Most of the postcards appear optimistic about the future. Not unsurprising, given Jules Verne’s techno-enthusiasm. These days popular culture (or at least things that end up in the cinema) tends to have a more pessimistic future outlook. Paleofuture also shows how some US children in 1976 imagined what 2076 would be like.

If my drawing was any good, I’d think about doing some postcards showing “solutions” for the National Science Challenges. Maybe some schools, and others, may like to give that a go to help inspire creativity in framing what the biggest issues facing NZ are and potential ways of overcoming them.

The Future by Airbus Robert Hickson Sep 27

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I’ve been looking at the latest instalment of The Future by Airbus and considering how it compares to the way some New Zealand sectors are looking toward the future. Their latest work is centred on “smarter skies”, and they look at 5 concepts associated with reducing fuel and energy emissions. Their horizon is 2050.

Airbus’ approach is less about predicting what will come to pass and more about generating ideas about a possible future – based on surveying passengers as well as considering engineering and design possibilities. They have also produced a fancy sound and light show to launch it, but that is more style than substance.

The New Zealand approach is, crudely, less about ideas and imagined futures and more to do with how we can sell more (valuable) stuff in a more environmentally sustainable way. Noble goals to be sure, but not that inspiring. And as the Riddet Institute’s “Call to Arms” report notes (echoing Sir Paul Callaghan), we can be good at producing such reports but not acting on them.

New Zealand strategic time horizons are usually only 10 to 15 years. Examples are Fonterra’s strategy, the Strategy for New Zealand Dairy Farming, the Riddet Institute’s Agri-Food Strategy, and the Forest Wood Strategic Action Plan. However, Victoria University has done work on looking at tourism in 2050, and the Auckland Plan looks out 30 years. On the other hand MFAT’s India and China strategies have a pitiful 3 to 4 year horizon.

I like Airbus’ approach, particularly their engaging with future travellers and young engineering graduates. That brings in fresh ideas and provides more interest and vibrancy than a dry strategic plan developed by a small group. Most of the NZ primary production strategies note the problem of attracting skilled workers to farming but struggle to find ways of how to solve it.

A key limitation I see in the farming and food strategies is their focus on products. They give less attention to the farming and post-harvest systems that sit around the product pipelines. These systems will change quite significantly over the coming decades, due to:

  • More expensive and/or volatile oil prices
  • Climate change
  • An increasing focus on sustainable production practices
  • Increasing competition from overseas producers
  • Demographic changes – fewer young folk are going into farming
  • Changing farm ownership patterns – farm sizes are tending to increase and more are likely to be run by corporations
  • Increasing technological precision, resulting in greater tailoring of plant and animal traits, feeding and fertilizer regimes, and control of the farm environment and the processing chains.
  • Increased integration of agricultural and industrial systems (to produce food, fibres, fuels and other materials)

What “smarter farming” concepts and  innovations will be important for how New Zealand farms? NZ’s future in agriculture may have more to do with how we farm rather than what we produce. Agility and diversity rather than large scale monoculture and a limited product range is what we need to think more about. And farming system expertise is exportable and profitable knowledge.

Here’s my starter list:

  1. Profit in diversity – back to the future with less specialised farms reliant on a single pasture type and single farming style. More integrated farms with various beasts and crops to spread the risks and develop new production opportunities.
  2. Low input farming – smarter use of water, fertilisers and pesticides through sensors, modelling and automation to reduce operating costs and adverse environmental impacts (we are already on the way to this, but there’s a long way to go).
  3. Data intensive farming – mining and analysing individual animal performance & welfare data, environmental conditions, nutrient loads, plant growth rates, and market trends to optimise and anticipate the next seasons farming plan.
  4. Integrated energy, water and waste management systems – farms that power and recycle themselves.
  5. Eco-logic farming – greater use of “terraforming” farms (ie changing the landscape) to enhance production and sustainability; including use of wetlands and  native plants to enhance biodiversity and better manage water and wastes.
  6. “Just in time” production – more flexible production & processing systems that respond quickly to market demands. For example, matching beef & lamb grazing to particular pasture/crops to provide meat with particular flavour, texture or nutrient characteristics.


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