RBC Farmer 4.0 – How the coming skills revolution can transform agriculture

A fourth agricultural revolution is underway, and Canada needs to seize it. The Internet of Farming, powered by advanced technologies like autonomous tractors and drone-mounted sensors, is already transforming the way we produce food. But this new generation of agriculture will take a new generation of skills, too. Canada is poised to meet that challenge. No other country has as much land, water or market access — or the education system to develop farmers and food producers who can thrive in a hyper-connected, data-driven economy. And yet our share of global exports is falling and productivity of our farms stalling. It could get worse, as a historic retirement wave begins and young Canadians show few signs of filling the gap. It’s more than an economic imperative. Our food security is at stake, as is our chance to feed the world in more sustainable ways. To help Canadians understand this critical moment, RBC’s economics and thought leadership team analyzed labour-force data, sector trends and innovations in other countries. We also spoke to farmers, educators and agriculture authorities across Canada, to understand what a new skills agenda could look like. We concluded that with the right mix of skills, capital and technology, agriculture could add $11 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2030. To get there, we need to rethink our approach to education, both for agriculture and the growing range of sectors that affect it; do more to attract young people to farming; and invest in the skills needed to attract a growing immigrant population to the sector. Three previous agriculture revolutions — the domestication of plants and animals, the mechanization of work and the mass scaling of genetic and chemical science — led to profound changes. The fourth will be no less powerful, if we invest in the skills that will shape Farmer 4.0.

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