Agricultural Futures: Science Fiction Farmers

Science Fiction movies are better known for space ships and laser pistols…

But they’ve also made some astute observations about the future of agriculture.

It might be a while until we have to worry about the events depicted in dystopian classics like Soylent Green, but with the constant exponential development of technology, more wild concepts from Sci-Fi movies are worming their way into our reality, suggesting that these distant futures might not be as remote as we think they are.

From George Lucas’ 1977 seminal picture to more recent super-hero releases, the notion of how we grow our products is constantly being challenged both on and off-screen.

Star Wars|1977

Luke Skywalker lives a peaceful, if somewhat dull, existence on his home planet of Tatooine in the opening scenes of Lucas’ Star Wars. He’s a small-town farm boy, whose adoptive parents own a ‘moisture farm’, a business that uses advanced machinery to extract water from the arid desert environment. Using second-hand droids (some of which don’t quite cut the mustard) and odd looking installations, the Lars’ existence felt like a remote one, reliant on technology.

Is It Happening Now? In Ethiopia, moisture farms are no longer a thing of science-fiction. Costing as little as £500, these towers, made of a polypropylene mesh and natural materials, gather condensation which then drips down into a collector. Hardly high tech, but still a clean source of water that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago.


A Scanner, Darkly|2006

Philip K. Dick’s seedy 1977 novel of rehabilitation gone wrong and an endless war on drugs was adapted by Richard Linklater, who used rotoscope animation to depict the mind-bending reality that protagonist Bob Arctor/Agent Fred lives in. By the time Linklater released the film in 2006, the story made for a timely statement on the War On Drugs, that the USA had been engrossed in for nearly a century. By the end of the movie, Keanau Reeves’ typically spaced out agent is mindlessly spraying fields of crops, after being enlisted into the ‘New-Path’ rehabilitation scheme – an organisation that is paradoxically producing the drugs its clients have got hooked to.

Is It Happening Now? Although there might not be any large scale production of a ‘Sudden D’ equivalent by a Rehab Company, the world of drug rehabilitation can often be a shady one. As recently as 2015, numerous allegations have been made against Community Recovery whose owner has been accused of supplying vulnerable clients with drugs in exchange for sex, money and alcohol.


Interstellar|2014

For the first 20 minutes or so you could be forgiven for thinking that Christopher Nolan’s black hole-jumping hit was set in the 20th century. Corn-fields, pickup trucks and dust storms plague protagonist Cooper’s home ranch. Although the fields look verdant enough, Earth is struggling to feed itself in this not-so-distant-future and even the aid of automated farm machinery isn’t bridging the gap. What’s more, they live in a post-truth society (the Moon landings are bluntly denied by a Science teacher) where children are being pushed to become farmers over getting a ‘proper’ education.

Is It Happening Now? Whilst moon landings conspiracy theories will always be questionable, automated farmyard technology is already in effect in the States. Self-driving tractors, made by industry giants CNH Industrial, were shown off last year – it won’t be long before they hit our own shores.


Logan|2017

Besides wholeheartedly embracing a future of drone technology (the bad guys use a fleet of them to hunt down runaway mutants), James Mangold’s second stab at the Wolverine legend also contained a worrying portent of a farming future yet to come. Logan contains a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it subplot pertaining to genetically modified foods and worryingly sentient container transports. Mangold subtly suggests a world where the will of sugar-pushing corporations is exacted by unthinking machines, a future that perhaps isn’t as far off as we think.

Is It Happening Now? The whole world loves Coca-Cola, although no one really knows what its made of…We’ve also had genetically modified vegetables for a long time now, but recently steps have been taken to introduce test-tube meat. How long will it be until there is a total disconnect between traditional farming and the food on our plates?

Ethically Sourced Clothes Are Now A Reality

Would you like to know how your clothes are made?

What began with fair trade food has now blossomed into a full blown trend, where more and more people are concerned about where all their consumer goods come from.

Sweatshops are far from being a thing of the past. For decades the biggest brands in clothing have made the most of their multi-national status by setting their factories up in developing countries, where unemployment is high and they can make the most of extremely low rates of pay.

In countries like Thailand, big brands can hire a hundred people for the same money that it would cost for them to hire ten Americans on minimum wage. Compound this with corrupt government officials, as well as an extremely relaxed approach to workers’ basic rights and places like China are veritable gold mines for massive companies (where some workers take home as little as £120 for a full month’s work).

Slowly but surely, however, the buying public are waking up to the aggressive nature that these brands operate with, resulting in a growing interest in independent fashion manufacturers that specialise in chic clothes that are ethically sourced and sometimes even organic.

There are now more Ethical brands of clothing than you can shake an irate fist, so whether you’re looking for kids designer clothes or a new athleisure outfit, there’ll be an ethical clothing brand that’ll suite your budget and taste.

Krochet Kids Ltd.

The three men behind Krochet Kids started out crocheting their own garments for the slopes, before designing and creating garments for school friends. After studying in college, the three friends took their crocheting skills to Uganda and began teaching a group of women their craft. Over ten years later and the non-profit company now hires over 150 people in both Uganda and Peru. Their mission is to ‘Empower people to rise above poverty’ by paying them to create simple garments made out of high-quality materials – plus, their website is full of details on the people who make the clothes.

Mayamiko

Mayamiko Clothing was set up in 2013. A non-profit organisation conceived by philanthropist Paola Masperi, it works in tandem with the Mayamiko Trust, a charity dedicated to supporting small communities of creative talents throughout Africa. Creating colourful, durable clothes that have inherited the quintessential African style (bold prints and patterns), Mayamiko’s Ethical Promises are illustrative of the respect they have for their artisans. Offering living wages to all of their employees, they work in safe working conditions, are given a nutritious meal each day and are even given support to set up their own businesses.

Gather & See

UK based founders Alicia Taylor and Stephanie Hogg had become disillusioned with the disparity between the clothes they were buying and where they originated from. They wanted to buy clothes that were ethically made but also on-point stylistically. Since launching in 2014, they have delivered their classic styles of clothes to 19 different countries whilst also being named by the Telegraph as one of the Top 10 Ethical Brands. Designed by independent, creative individuals and sourced ethically, their range is wide and surprisingly affordable, considering the quality on offer.

Diversification: A Multifaceted Farm

Farms now need to be more than just producers in order to flourish.

The Farming industry has changed irrevocably over the last century.

In the 21st Century, the farm owners and landholders of Britain have to be more than simply workers of the land. Operating a successful agricultural business in modern Britain is now a gargantuan task involving multiple skill sets including: people management, business-to-business communications, marketing and many more. But it hasn’t always been like this, 50 years ago the farming landscape of Britain looked very different.

Although Britain has long been a nation that has specialised in Agriculture, there was a time when the entire industry was on the brink of chaos. After the Second World War, Britain’s farms were in crisis. Over 450,000 British people died during the course of WWII, just under 1% of the total population. This might not sound like a huge number, but consider that this is essentially 1 in every 100 people and that the majority of these deaths were men of working age, involved in either agriculture or industry, and you can see why this had such a significant impact on Great Britain’s farms.

Thankfully, the Agriculture Act of 1947 drastically reordered and revitalised the way that the government could interact with farms. The act, above all else, offered stability to the farmer, guaranteeing more secure markets and prices so that the land holder knew what price he could get for his product before selling.

The Act also gave landowners greater rights to tenure, meaning that their land could no longer be taken away from them as easily. These reformative bills gave post-War farmers the much needed security that they needed to turn a decent profit throughout the Baby Boom period, but would not be enough to protect them from the decades of austerity that were soon to follow.

Towards the late 1970s, the government decided that the country’s agricultural system needed to be reviewed. Unfortunately, by the time this review got underway, the Margaret Thatcher administration had taken control. Soon new laws relating to both succession rights, and the value of the milk quota attached to land, significantly changed the relationship between the landowner and the tenant. Still, British farms managed to persevere throughout these tough times.

How have they managed to survive throughout a handful of financial crashes and turbulent times? Diversification.

Nearly 70% of the land mass in the UK is used for Farming and half of all farmers in the UK supplement their income through diversification – adding £10,400 on average to British farms’ total revenue. Diversification can take many forms – some farmers choose to convert part of their holdings into tourist attractions, like Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park in Poole, whereas others innovate, creating their own products and niches, like Martin Hamilton from County Down.

In the face of falling figures in the agricultural sector; Martin Hamilton and his team reshaped their enterprise into a wholly new business, shifting away from a more traditional farm-retailer relationship. Mash Direct was born over a Sunday roast and the idea is a surprisingly simple one. Growing their land ownership from 93 hectares to 570 in the space of around 10 years, the family have flourished, selling their vegetable accompaniments to independent stores as well as some of the bigger retail companies, such as ASDA.

Entering into the retail market was not a move that that family undertook lightly. From the start, they understood that they needed to be consistently developing new products, not only to keep up with their newfound competitors but also to maintain the company’s forward momentum. By maintaining a constant presence at Farmer’s Markets, Trade Shows and Food Festivals, the family has been able to keep tabs on what consumers want from them, so that they can continue developing products that sell well.

Lastly, Martin has secured his family business as an integral part of the community, by being the first businessman to launch a junior entrepreneur programme on their farm. Inviting over 300 pupils from local village schools, he has worked to inspire 10 and 11 year old kids to think laterally about developing their own business visions.

Martin’s is a typical diversification success story, an example of a business that has managed to come back from the brink by tirelessly innovating and challenging the conceptions of how a modern farm can function in the 21st century.