Whatever advances may come in terms of food production, the farm is unlikely to go away any time soon. It will change, as everything must, but it will still perform its basic, essential function: growing food.
On the topic of food, changing preferences in food, driven by a drive towards sustainability, and cultural changes away from meat consumption, will change the face of farming. Animals raised for meat will be decidedly rarer than they are now, and will be largely smaller animals, like chicken and rabbits, that are cheaper to raise and consume fewer resources. Most meat consumed will be grown from tissue cultures in a factory setting, and a significant amount of food crops will be cultivated to provide the nutrients required for these tissue cultures. The process will be much more efficient than the old method, via a cow chewing grass, however, and require far less land than what was once given over to feed.
Dairy production, however, will still require cows. While feed-lot operations are efficient, they also require a great deal of energy and feed. Dairy cows are more likely to be free-range in the future, grazing on fields otherwise unsuitable for cultivation. Care will be taken to collect up the cow’s waste, as the farm is off the grid and must supply its own power.
Chickens will be kept primarily for eggs, but some will also be used for meat. This meat is often sold at premium to “connoisseurs”. Chicken coops will be long, low structures that give the birds free access to a yard for feeding and exercise, and then they move inside for the night. The chicken coop not only collects the birds’ eggs, it also collects their waste for the biogas system, and acts as a solar power generator.
Farms will cultivate a number of crops, with a variety of uses, not all of them food. There will be the food crops like wheat, oats, soy, canola, corn, potatoes, and many others. Many of these crops will be hybridized or even genetically modified in order to increase yields, reduce the requirement for pesticides and herbicides, and condition the soil. The use of most herbicides and pesticides will be outlawed, forcing the adoption of more resistant species and modified species. Heavy use will be made of companion planting, even in the otherwise monoculture fields, in order to reduce the requirement for fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides even further. With the use of precise robotic harvesting, these companion plants can have a market value in and of themselves, allowing them to be harvested separately from the primary crop.
The production of soy won’t be used just as food for people, however. Protein-rich soy will also be used as nutrient stock for cultured meat, along with sugar beets or sugar cane.
Non-food crops will include hemp for pulp and fibre, kudzu for animal fodder and biofuels, and flax for food and clothing. Cotton will be grown in the right environments, but will be accompanied by swarms of robots and helper insects to keep the plants pest- and weed-free.
The farm itself will be largely self-contained and self-powered. Power production is a mix of wind and solar, with methane-powered generators, fueled by a biodigester system that produces biogas from the farm’s waste.
Most farms will be larger than they are now, and much more diversified. The diversification allows fields to be rotated more effectively, and cushions the farm in case of crop failure. Whenever possible, crops will have to rely on natural sources of moisture, supplemented by rainwater collection systems and efficient irrigation. Many crops will be selected as much for their drought-tolerance as for their yield.
Most farms have a relatively small staff, of people at least. Most of the farm “staff” will be robots. These robots do much of the harvesting, and the tending of the fields. They cause less damage to plants and soil than heavy tractors and other equipment, and ultimately are cheaper than human labor. The staff live at the farm itself, as there is little in the way of towns or cities nearby. The old days of small towns supporting the farms, and vice-versa, is gone. The farms themselves are too large, and their numbers too small, to support any large settlements.
Travel to and from the farms is by long-range car or truck usually powered by a fuel cell rather than the more common battery systems. Rather than a heavy truck, with the attendant road requirements and support facilities, the various products of the farm are often collected by a solar-powered airship, a smaller version of the ones that ship tropical produce to the temperate zones.
Farms will become more diverse, but still work to satisfy the primary human need for food and clothing. Sustainable and energy-independent, these farms will epitomize the need for the future to be greener, and better at supplying food, for a world that could reach over 11 billion by the end of this century.