homepage logo

‘A great time to be in ag’

By Staff | Feb 10, 2017

DR. LOWELL CATLETT, an economic futurist, tells farmers that this is a great time to be in agriculture because of the revolutions that have occurred in food production and because of the ones yet to come.

DES MOINES – According to Dr. Lowell Catlett, an economist and futurist, when comparing “good old days” with now, and one considers:

A). Cell phones are hundreds of times more powerful than the computers that took men to the moon and back;

B). Robotics is no longer coming, it’s here in force – the second-largest number of robots purchased in a single industry in the past few years has been dairy;

C). In 1970, the world could not produce enough food to provide the minimum required calories -2,450 – to sustain body maintenance for its 3.6 billion people, but in 2017 already produces 3,100 calories daily per person.

“Will we be able to feed 9 billion people? Hell, we already do, if we eat only 2,450 calories,” Catlett said during a Jan. 25 presentation at the Iowa Pork Congress. “So, in short, the old days sucked.”

Catlett has built a reputation for spreading the good news the future holds as he sees it, especially for those engaged in agricultural pursuits.

“Our livestock have the best life they’ve ever had,” he said. “I like to say they just have one very bad day.”

He said food production technologies have improved so that to feed 9 billion people, the world needs enough arable land the combined size of Canada, U.S. and China, leaving 3 billion acres of land to be repurposed into conservation uses.

As a result, Catlett said, “We have 100 times more deer, 10 times more elk than a century ago. We have more horses now than during the horse-drawn era.

“Think about that.”

World wealth

He said the world has more money than ever before, adding that, 10 years ago, a total of 2 billion people lived on the equivalent of $1.25 per day or less. In 2017, that number is down to 750 million.

“That’s still too many,” he said, but noted it was the fastest, biggest decline than in any other 10-year period.

“The world has more money,” Catlett said, “and when people make more money, they want to improve their diet.”

As a result, the world meat demand will double and he thinks it cannot be met with animals on pasture only, but through intensive animal agriculture.

“And if North Carolina doesn’t want to do it,” Catlett told his audience, “Iowa will. And if Iowa doesn’t want to do it, Texas will.”

Another effect of improved ag efficiency is that the average household spends 10 percent of its income on meals outside the home. In 1970, that number was at 20 percent.

“The efficiency of ag has given you back 10 percent of your income without a pay raise,” Catlett said.


When looking at the near future, Catlett told his farming audience to prepare their minds for an adventurous future. The trends include:

1). Robots: Ag is the second-largest buyer of robots in 2015, as dairy milkers. The next generation is a robot called Baxter, a program in which the robot is not so much programmed for certain repetitive functions, but is trained – and the more it works, the more it “learns” sort of on its own.

2). 3D printing: “General Electric said this is the future,” Catlett said. He envisions a farm making its own No. 10 washers rather than running into town for them.

“In Sweden, they manufactured a car during a trade show and actually drove it off the stage at the end of the show,” Catlett said.

In the future, he foresees 3D printers making meals or even animal vaccines.

3). Computer tech: “It will (continue) to blow ag apart,”?Catlett said. With more transistors placed in electronic devices, there are more ways for them to communicate with each other and the more they can, the more applications people will find for them.

As an example he said the largest mover of people right now is Uber – essentially a private taxi service. The Uber app allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request, which the software program then automatically sends to the Uber driver nearest to the consumer, alerting the driver to the location of the customer.

In addition, the largest hospitality provider in the U.S. is Airbnb – an online marketplace and homestay network enabling people with rooms to rent for short-term lodging with travelers who need a place to stay.

And it’s all because these devices,” Catlett said holding up his own smartphone, “can talk to each other.”

“And will carry over to livestock sales, delivery of crop inputs, waste management (with automated, driverless trucks).”

And if that weren’t enough, the devices now listen to whatever is going on around them, which will have an impact on culture and farming as well, he said.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page