Futurist tells producers to stay ahead of curve
Forecaster says 'be better, to be faster' to survive upcoming changes
By STEVE BROWN
MARYSVILLE, Wash. -- As nations rebound from global recession, the uneven rates of recovery will set off ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy, futurist Bob Treadway says.
Treadway, who for 25 years has provided forecasts to large organizations like Berkshire Hathaway, Motorola, Syngenta and the Federal Reserve, spoke to about 500 representatives of the agricultural industry during the seventh annual Focus on Farming Conference, organized by the Snohomish County Economic Development Division.
The most obvious effect will be the price of oil, he said. "As the rest of the world increases demand, the cost of oil will go up. My forecast is that we'll see $100-a-barrel oil within the next four years. That could go up to $200. Will consumers come to your farmers' market if gasoline is $6 to $8 a gallon?"
Within the U.S., he said, the recession -- "next month 3 years old" -- is not over. Treadway said he projects continued high unemployment levels, especially considering two numbers: 75 percent of jobs are created by small business; and 71 percent of small business owners say they will not hire until the economy improves.
The recent elections will change what comes out of Congress, Treadway said, specifically the farm bill, authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, agency budgets and the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit.
Treadway said he doesn't make predictions. "I forecast, taking into account uncertainties and new information." He called this "flexible foresight."
Preparing for the future is the only way to survive, he said. He quoted the Noah Principle: "Just predicting the rain doesn't count. Building arks does."
As more insinuations and unscientific claims are made about agriculture, he said, consumers will become more and more confused. Staying involved in public discourse is vital.
To survive the changes, Treadway told the ag professionals, "It's important to be better, to be faster, to streamline operations. ... The best businesses will grow with innovation, creativity, differentiation and technological adaptation."
As an example, Treadway cited Huls Dairy Farm in Corvallis, Ore. The highly automated dairy, with 300 to 350 cows, has invested in an anaerobic digester, which creates three income streams:
* Filtered water, with zero odor, is returned to the cropland. A side effect of this is the virtual buffer created between the dairy and its residential neighbors.
* The methane gas fulfills the energy needs for the dairy and both homes on the property.
* The solid-waste output is bagged and sold to consumers. The 1.5-cubic-yard bags, sold for about $10, "show phenomenal growth and benefit," he said. "They're making more from the waste stream than from their milk."
Other innovations include "tweeting" consumers when strawberries are ready for sale, Internet sales of Wagyu beef, differentiating grain for marketing and diversifying a cattle ranch with a micro-distillery.
Treadway left his listeners with this thought: "You have chosen one of the most positive and opportunistic and beneficial lines of work in the world."