I have long argued just as the industrial revolution mechanized agriculture (essential turning family farms into outdoor food factories), the information revolution will transform manufacturing into a knowledge-intensive activity. But that does not leave agriculture back in the industrial age. Farming is already becoming an information-intensive activity – from the use of remote-sensing satellites and GPS to indicate exactly where water, fertilizer and pesticides should be applied to up-to-the-minute information on markets and the use of sophisticated financial instruments.
But farming in small nations has always been a problem case, especially in the industrial model where nations with large agricultural areas (US, Australia, Argentina) could reap the benefits of economies of scale. In the I-Cubed Economy, is there a future for smaller farms or will they simply disappear?
Birthe Linddal Hansen, of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, argues that smaller agricultural nations, such as Denmark, still have a place in the economy. But they must move from the industrial logic of production to the information logic of customization:
We need to rely on quality instead of quantity, on processing instead of bulk, on taste instead of price, on individuals instead of multitudes, on nature instead of chemistry, on advanced technology instead of industry, on diversity instead of standardisation.
Danish agriculture will have to replace the industrial logic and its concomitant rationality with a logic that takes into account the fact that tomorrow’s consumer already has become enmeshed with the modern knowledge, enlightenment, dream, and self-actualisation society. Tomorrow’s food producers, farmers and manufacturers alike, will have to plan their production so as to catch the attention of the consumers and offer them products, choices, quality, variation, and possibilities to an extend that surpasses anything we see in Denmark today, be it quality, delivery, or taste variation. Danish agriculture and food processing must contribute to creating attractive needs for tomorrow’s customers before the customers can see it themselves. They must be able to offer the customers far more unique taste experiences than they can today. They must give the customers a clean conscience about Nature, extend them a helping hand when it comes to health concerns, and give them pleasant associations vis-à-vis nature and production, not the least when it comes to their own food preparation.
I’m not sure I agree with all of her argument, especially relying on the self-actualized consumer:
Tomorrow’s consumer won’t just ask for menu and wine list, he will demand a raw ingredient chart so that he’ll know what he’s eating and where the ingredients came from.
But her emphasis on variety, customization and higher value-added products is very much right on target. We see this with the resurgence of farmer’s markets in the US and the growth of higher-end grocery stores, such as Whole Food and Harris Teeter.
I don’t think that such higher-end production will completely replace cheap mass production. Cost still matters.
High-end production does offer a viable alternative strategy for agricultural producers in countries like Denmark, who are facing global competition of eggs from Thailand, steaks from Argentina, and milk from New Zealand.