It’s one of those clichés that you hear so often that it has probably lost all of its power to surprise or delight – but the ‘change is the only constant’ line is one that’s being applied with monotonous regularity to the farming world.

At the risk of jeopardising my early November entry in the ‘Not Mentioning Brexit Award’, it’s true that our exit from the EU has come at a critical time for agriculture and the one certainty is that the industry will face huge changes on many fronts in the coming years.

I’ve heard it said that a lot of these changes were going to come anyway and that Brexit will simply act as a catalyst to get us through a process which was inevitable.

Politically, socially and technologically, we do seem to be at a cusp, with huge threats and opportunities lying out there in wait for us – and which ones we grab and which ones we avoid will, in part, be up to us. But this will also be strongly influenced by political dealings and social sentiment.

Now, I don’t know if it’s simply that November somehow seems to be the season for such reflections on the future food and farming, but in the past week I’ve ploughed through three reports looking at some of the changes which might be brought about by new technology rather than the on-going political upheaval.

The first one was produced by one of the big supermarkets and outlined what things might be like 10, 20 and 50 years down the line – along the lines of ‘When Daisy is out at work the Internet Of Things will allow her fridge to automatically connect with supermarket and based on her recent buying practices, personality traits and unique health requirements will automatically order up the ingredients which will be delivered to her door in time to allow her to rustle up a healthy, satisfying meal’.

Not overly exciting, groundbreaking or even terribly relevant to our own industry, to be honest.

The next one looked at the things which we as farmers should be considering now to make sure that we don’t get left behind as technology – in all its different forms – continues to advance at an ever increasing speed, taking us into the fourth agricultural revolution.

While I’m sure most of the readers of The SF will be keeping abreast of developments, this report pointed out that UK farmers are lagging behind other countries in recognising the benefits which can be offered by new technology – and that by failing to invest now, we could be at risk of missing the boat altogether.

The advice in the report stressed the importance of keeping up to date with developments and making sure we have the management skills to adopt technology and successfully master the opportunities available from data-based farming – basically urging us to ‘keep up with things’.

The third report started off by annoying me because it claimed to focus on ‘disruptive technology’ in agriculture. While I’m well aware that the use of the term ‘disruptive’ in this context is just a trendy way of saying ‘good’ and indicative of something which will shake the sector up and make it look at things anew, I just wish such an interpretation had sometimes been given to such behaviour at school.

Anyhow, despite the poor start, this report actually turned out to be the most interesting – and certainly the most radical of the three.

Drawn up by an independent think-tank that analyses and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society, the group claimed to produce impartial, data-driven analyses of upcoming trends. It also stated that conventional analysis of such trends often totally underestimated the speed at which change often took place.

Despite the fact that it was based on the American farming experience, the thinking was transferable to most developed countries.

Going way further even than the total controlled environment agriculture environment of vertical farming, its basic premise was that the within the next 10 to 15 years much of conventional agriculture will become redundant and largely replaced by synthetic protein production by micro-organisms in fermentation systems.

The claim was that advances in synthetic biology now see the technology approaching the point where precision fermentation can be harnessed to pretty much allow a ‘dial-a-protein’ – where the creation of any particular food constituent can be harnessed and controlled along the lines of computer software.

While much of thrust looked at replacing the cow as the all-important producer of much of the protein which we consume – in terms of both dairy and beef – there were considerable knock-on implications for the arable sector as well.

Just like in the US, large quantities of our own land is devoted to producing the feed for livestock and while the report admitted that small-scale artisanal production would continue, alternative synthetic proteins could soon replace the 3% protein in milk and much of the ground beef widely used in burgers and other processed products, meaning that cattle numbers would fall swiftly.

As side-effect of this, almost half the output of cropping land would no longer be required.

Although some of the grain and other feedstocks might continue to be required by the carefully controlled fermentation process, the much reduced demand for grain would see prices collapse and along with this the value of land would plummet to half its current level.

But while the vast majority of advice doled out to the industry tells us to focus on improving the things we can, it has a tendency to mirror the wildly optimistic belief that things might be better next year, this report was much harsher.

‘Get out quick’ was the underlying message to those unwilling to change, backed up by don’t invest in anything geared to producing conventional farm products because they would be unlikely to pay back over the 10 or so years before the fourth – or perhaps it might be the fifth – agricultural revolution kicks in big time.

Its argument pointed out that it took mankind around 100,000 years of hunter gathering before the first inklings of agriculture were established. We then spent around 10,000 years domesticating the plants and animals which were available in the wild and practising fairly basic subsistence agriculture before the first agricultural revolution kicked in the 17th and 18th centuries.

So started the adoption of elementary crop rotations and the systematic improvement of animal breeds which took us up to the next step change at the beginning of the 20th century.

This revolution saw not only horse and water-power replaced by tractor engine power but also the invention and uptake of synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and other pesticides. It proved so successful in increasing food production that it became the predominant form of agriculture in most of the developed world over the course of about 100 years.

So, while it might boggle our imaginations now, the acceleration in change has already been growing at a break-neck speed.

It would be easy, however, to tell ourselves that a move away from land-based farming is never likely to happen because the food we produce and eat is driven by tradition, personal preference, taste and fashion.

However, on this front we could take a look at another important sector which used to be supplied almost entirely by the farming industry in one form or another.

For, shortly after we stopped wearing wolf and bear skins – along with the hides of almost anything else we could kill – farmers were long involved in producing the raw materials for the clothing industry.

In northern Europe, at least, wool was a major player on this front and during the mediaeval period much of the wealth of the UK was built on the abilities of the country’s farmers to produce high quality wool. I guess growing flax was fairly widespread, as well, for turning into that other tough cloth, linen.

However, both these products were eventually hard squeezed by the surge in cotton production imported from foreign lands, driven by low cost production systems made possible by the doubly despicable practices of slavery and colonisation.

The accompanying industrial revolution also saw the death knell of the cottage industry of weaving which had kept many small villages going. But the dark satanic mills which thrived during that period could process the cloth more efficiently and in much larger quantities, killing the small-scale weaving industry in all but a few localised areas.

While some small-scale, high-cost natural products persist – such as Harris Tweed – things have moved on much further and faster in recent decades, with synthetic fibres made from nylon, acrylic polyester and fleece now accounting for a large proportion of the clothes we wear.

So, change does happen – and it can happen quickly. Be aware!