The (probable) future of food and consequences for agriculture

The nutrition of humanity and agriculture are facing major challenges and changes. The world's population is growing from today's 8 billion to 10 billion by 2050. Climate catastrophe, soil degradation and ecosystem collapse due to biodiversity loss are increasingly limiting harvests and fishing. Animal diseases and zoonotic diseases are lowering sales opportunities and further reducing the profitability of livestock production. Changes in values related to animal use are increasing the cost of animal agriculture and reducing demand for animal products. Ecological agriculture as a protection against the consequences of climate and biodiversity catastrophes is gaining increasing importance in politics and society. A variety of new processes and technologies are leading to drastic reductions in the prices of animal-use-independent, alternative proteins and other nutrients with improved nutritional quality, significantly lower resource use and high climate friendliness.

Overall, the developments are likely to soon make animal agriculture uneconomical for farmers and impossible in the longer term.

A. What evidence of the likely and rapid decline of animal agriculture already exists today?

(1) Current statistics

In Germany, twelve percent less meat was demanded in the 1st half of '22 compared to the 1st half of '21 [1] and eight percent less was produced [2]. The causes are manifold and probably mainly include increased costs for grain and energy due to the climate disaster and the war in Ukraine, which led to higher retail prices and farm closures, import bans on pork in China due to African swine fever, reduced domestic demand due to changes in values in society and simultaneous plant-based alternatives.

(2) Forecasts by various market research institutes and consultancies

According to the Boston Consulting Group, the alternative protein market could grow to 22% by 2035 [3]. According to AT Kearney, the global meat market could decline by 33% by 2040 [4]. RethinkX predicts that the meat, dairy, and fish markets in the U.S., and likely elsewhere, will decline by 90% by 2035, resulting in de facto collapse [5].

Drivers of the above projections are (i) plant-based alternatives, (ii) cultured meat (cell-based), and (iii) protein production via precision fermentation. The latter process is particularly effective. Recommended for understanding this is chapter 2.2.2.2 (The Disruption of Milk) [5]. According to this, the collapse of the animal industry starts with the replacement of cow's milk with the better and cheaper PF milk.

(3) Completely new technologies, such as Air Protein

The new processes can produce proteins 10 times more efficiently than plants and 100 times more efficiently than animals. They require no input from agriculture and can be used regardless of climate and soil. The necessary energy is generated by now very sophisticated solar technology, which uses natural bacterial cultures to produce high-quality proteins and other essential nutrients. The scientific basis can be found e.g. in these studies [6] and [7]. Functioning prototypes exist and the Finnish company So­lar Foods is already building the first factory. Commercial launch is scheduled for early 2024. These new technologies are not yet included in the above forecasts and will provide additional momentum.

B. What should farmers do and what options do they have?

Farmers should exit livestock farming as soon as possible, even at a loss if necessary, and turn to other business models, e.g.: 

(1) Switch to (organic) vegan agriculture and cultivation of plants for plant milk and plant meat or of vegetables/fruit

Farmers can find information on organic-vegan agriculture via the Förderkreis biozyklisch-veganer Anbau (Association for the Promotion of Organic-Vegan Agriculture) [8], the "Vegan Organic Farming" project funded by the Federal Environment Agency [9] and by many German and internationally practicing companies [10]. Two outstanding exemplary farms that have been operating vegan for years are PlantAge [11] and the Biohof Hausmann [12].

Unfortunately, the livestock lobby is very strong and a lot of misinformation and falsehoods are spread towards the public, politics, but also towards farmers. Even Cem Özdemir picked up on some of this by adopting the lobby position of the farmers' association and claiming that agriculture without animal husbandry is not possible [13]. Some of these myths debunked on the websites of "landwirtschaft.jetzt": [14] and [15].

Even if there are no comprehensive programs in Germany, as there are in the Netherlands, for example [16], transitions are already accompanied and supported by non-profit associations, e.g. by Bevela [17] and Hof Narr [18].

(2) Use of grassland instead of cows for biogas production and fertilizer production 

Instead for cows, the use of existing grassland as a supplier of biogas substrate in biogas plants offers at least two advantages for the farmer.

(i) The fermentation of the grass produces methane, which can be burned in a climate-neutral way by companies or households or directly converted into electricity by the farmer. This allows the farmer to continue to make money from his existing grassland. Society also benefits by reducing geopolitical dependencies on states such as Russia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

(ii) Fermentation produces residue that can be stored and used as a plant-based fertilizer on an as-needed basis. These fertilizers will become increasingly necessary when slurry, manure and animal carcasses are no longer used as fertilizers.

Information on implementation and economic efficiency has been summarized by the "Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft" in an information sheet [19].

(3) Provision of green areas for solar and wind power plants

In the face of geopolitical energy crises, the phase-out of fossil fuels and nuclear power, the increasing demand for electricity from electromobility, and intensifying climate change, the need for renewable energy is growing. Wind power and especially solar plants require land that farmers can provide when they phase out livestock farming.

The planning and construction of wind turbines is costly and complicated. For example, public tenders have to be participated in, inspections and approvals are lengthy and awards are rare. Nevertheless, this option should not be ruled out in advance [20]. As the statistics of Rentenbank showed, financing for wind power plants in the 1st half of '22 increased the most among farmers [21]. An initial, free and independent consultation on this can be obtained, for example, from the Bavarian coordination office for renewable raw materials, renewable energies and sustainable use of resources, "C.A.R.M.E.N e.V." [22].

Perhaps more interesting and promising for farmers is the conversion of vacant livestock areas for solar plants. Firstly, farmers can lease their land (lease price is 2,000 euros/ha, depending on location) and secondly become co-partners in a plant [23]. A detailed guide for such a project is provided by  “C.A.R.M.E.N e.V.” [24], who also offer a personal consultation [22].

Another possibility is Agri-Photovoltaics, i.e. the combined use of agricultural land for crop cultivation and solar power. This can achieve a land use efficiency of up to 160% relative to single use alone [25]. The joint use of grassland as a grass substrate supplier for a biogas plant and as an area for a solar plant is also conceivable. A comprehensive guide to this has been prepared by the Fraunhofer Institute [26]. Here, too, an initial consultation can be provided by "C.A.R.M.E.N e.V." [22].

(4) Afforestation, peatland restoration and other renaturations

A phase-out of livestock farming will free up many areas of grassland that can be restored to their natural state, such as forests, bogs or orchards. These areas would then provide important ecosystem services, such as CO2 sequestration and the development of biodiversity [27], which would have to be rewarded to the farmers. Although initial afforestation can already be subsidized under certain conditions today [28],[29], however, conversion of permanent grassland, including for afforestation, is highly regulated and subject to approval. Up-to-date information can be obtained from the relevant chambers of agriculture and applications must be submitted to the respective Office for Food, Agriculture and Forestry.

In the future, however, the fulfillment of ecosystem services should be made much easier for farmers and remunerated on a permanent basis, e.g. by issuing CO2 certificates. This could be coupled with the government's goal of reducing livestock farming, if the conversion of pasture land is promoted first and foremost. In order to obtain the corresponding political framework conditions, farmers should demand significantly more support from politicians via their interest groups and associations.

References

[1] https://www.agrarheute.com/markt/tiere/inflation-preisschock-verbraucher-kaufen-12-weniger-fleisch-596409

[2] https://www.destatis.de/DE/Presse/Pressemitteilungen/2022/08/PD22_332_413.html

[3] https://www.bcg.com/publications/2022/combating-climate-crisis-with-alternative-protein

[4] https://www.es.kearney.com/en/consumer-retail/article/-/insights/when-consumers-go-veganhow-much-meat-will-be-left-on-the-table-for-agribusiness

[5] https://www.rethinkx.com/food-and-agriculture

[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221191241830141X

[7] https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2015025118

[8] https://biozyklisch-vegan.org/

[9] https://veganer-oekolandbau.de/

[10] http://www.veganfarming.org/

[11] https://www.plantage.farm/

[12] https://bio-hausmann.de

[13] https://www.t‑online.de/nachrichten/deutschland/gesellschaft/id_100044088/cem-oezdemir-gruene-auch-bauern-sollen-kuenftig-besser-leben.html

[14] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/de/mythen/

[15] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/de/die-kuh-ist-ein-klimakiller/

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/15/netherlands-announces-25bn-plan-to-radically-reduce-livestock-numbers

[17] https://bevela.de/

[18] https://www.hof-narr.ch/

[19] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/dlg-merkblatt_386.pdf

[20] https://www.topagrar.com/energie/news/windrad-pachtvertraege-gehen-sie-mutig-in-verhandlungen-12508376.html

[21] https://www.agrarheute.com/management/finanzen/landwirte-verdoppelten-investitionen-erneuerbare-energien-596754

[22] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Serviceflyer_C.A.R.M.E.N.e.V.pdf

[23] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/AgrarHeuteSolaranlagen.pdf

[24] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Leitfaden_Freiflaechen-Photovoltaikanlagen.pdf

[25] https://www.agrarheute.com/energie/agri-photovoltaik-landwirtschaftlichen-flaechen-doppelt-ernten-592623

[26] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/APV-Leitfaden.pdf

[27] https://www.forstpraxis.de/bundestag-will-okosystemleistungen-honorieren/

[28] https://landwirtschaft.jetzt/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/1018_Foerderung_Privatwald_Web_200428.pdf

[29] https://privatwald.fnr.de/ansprechpartner