The Midwest’s great deserted expanses, the interminable plains controlled by a few farmers and a great number of machines where yellow ears of corn grow, will soon be a past memory. Even more archival material will be the hard battles between the ranchers and farmers, captured by epic Western duels. Even though it’s the most developed in the world, US agriculture will need to face huge changes: numbers, economic analyses, and demographic developments impose them. In 2050, the global population will exceed 9 billion people. According to a study performed by Stratfor, a prestigious intelligence society, agricultural output will need to increase 25% in the same 35-year period. In addition to the population, needs and demands for more healthy diets will increase. Millions of people—especially in Asia—are emerging from underdevelopment and a subsistence economy. They still haven’t developed productive capacities capable of satisfying this demand. Their current sate of knowledge doesn’t allow them to solve this problem, if not by trusting countries with the competency to increase agricultural yields. The US is first in line in the contradiction between acquired supremacy and tension toward improvement.
The present picture reveals the US’ indisputable supremacy. It’s self-sufficient, it exports its products, and it boasts great yields. Less than 1% of the population works in this sector compared to an average slightly greater than 33% globally. Mechanization is legendary, production is very high, and the integration with the fertilizer industry is very profitable. In any case, this success is threatened not only by overpopulation. Arable land is obviously not infinite. The same limits are met with irrigation resources. Furthermore, costs are growing and becoming less competitive. Demands for organic foods are increasingly stringent. Finally, manual labor—Latino laborers immortalized in Steinbeck novels—will be less available, retained in Mexico by better living standards and stubborn in choosing urban destinations.
Nothing remains but technology, already pushed to unthinkable levels. Both US and Japanese universities have created experimental robots to harvest fruits and vegetables. Like their industrial colleagues, they’re not limited by hours, they’re obedient, and they don’t demand higher salaries. The harvesters know what to cut; tractors will become increasingly intelligent and capable of forgoing a driver. GMO crops will become more controlled and compatible with less toxic fertilizers. In the end, drones will control soil quality with surveys performed at a distance. It would be the revenge—peaceful and economic—of people who have long supported the dual use of research, where in this case civilian use prevails over military.