Check out this interesting article on Bloomberg. Apparently, the world’s farmers are retiring fast, and they cannot find young people to replace them. They are trying to replace them with robots, but that seems like an expensive proposition.
Seems like Soylent may be moving into the mainstream just in time.
I live here in the middle of Iowa and yes there are farmers that are retiring and there is plenty of land being sold but, the land is being sold to larger corporations where they do massive farming and have a few employee’s with 10 of thousands of acres at a time. We may be losing farmers but companies are buying it all up and farming it all as one.
You say “expensive proposition” but robots don’t need food or salaries or sleep or health/retirement packages. The farm owners will need to buy the robots and pay ongoing fees for upkeep such as software updates and repairs. But in the long run, robots that can do the job of a human are cheaper. The robots will save a lot of money. A full-time Japanese human worker on minimum wage earns ¥1,600,000 (US$14000) per year. With a robot that only lasts for 5 years, that’s US$70,000 in savings. If a farm owner can replace 15 humans they can afford to pay US$1,000,000 for robots. The robots might operate more slowly but they can keep working day and night.
Not sure on the robots that do tilling or seeding or picking, but according to a UMN study (http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/dairy/precision-dairy/milking-robots-do-they-pay/) milking robots don’t labor costs but they are more efficient. The reason for robots is they are nicer. A tractor without a roof is cheaper, but most farmers would get a tractor with a roof because it’s nicer. Replacing an existing farm setup that has no problems with a robot farm might not make financial sense, but when labor costs or availability are low, or when setting up a new farm, it makes sense to consider robots because a new robotic farm will cost only a little more than a new old-fashioned farm. Robot milkers have lasted at least 15 years. Robots can also clean up the manure (no human likes that job!)
I just want to add, some of those giant farming corporations may not be as giant as you think. My mother and aunt formed a corporation so that they wouldn’t have to split up the land they inherited from my grandfather. I’m sure they aren’t the only ones who’ve done that. The land is worked by farmers they lease to, since they both married ‘city’ boys – and would be retired by now anyway, even if they hadn’t.
Funny thing, one of the farmers they lease to has his own tiny corporation, and between land he owns and land he leases from several different owners, he (and his son, and one employee) actually farms more land than my mom and aunt own.