Not everyone is cut out to be a farmer, but thanks to a new game, anyone with a smartphone can get a taste of what it means to feed the world.
“There’s definitely a disconnect between consumers and what happens on the farm, and I think people are curious,” said Lindsey Verhaeghe, a corporate social responsibility specialist for Nutrien (the new company formed by the merger of Agrium and PotashCorp), which developed the game with a long list of agriculture industry partners.
“They want to know where their food is coming from, and this game is a cool way for them to see inside a farm, in a fun, virtual environment.”
Launched in the fall, Farmers 2050 is a free mobile game that aims to educate people about the realities of farming.
“We want to teach the public and kids about where their food comes from and get them talking about world food sustainability,” said Verhaeghe. “It’s all about that whole question of how we’re going to sustainably feed nine billion people by 2050.
“A game like this introduces that topic. It gets people thinking and gets the discussion going.”
And so far, the game seems to be a hit for people of all ages. Since October, there have been 95,000 downloads, and that number grows every day.
“Farming games are really popular,” said Verhaeghe. “This one is free. There are no ads and no in-app purchases. Often when you’re playing games, if you want to level up or need a special item, you need to use your credit card. That’s huge for a parent.”
But she’s quick to point out the game is not age specific.
“We have adults playing and little kids playing. It’s really just fun for anyone to play.”
Verhaeghe credits the game’s focus on “real agriculture” for its popularity (and addictiveness).
Players buy land (the higher your level, the more land you have) and then choose how they want to use it. They can grow up to eight different field crops and a variety of fruits, and raise dairy cows, chickens, and bees.
Players can also play the market, selling their commodities directly to an end-user or to other farmers around the world who have their own unique commodities to sell. Or, if they’re feeling crafty, players can make their own goods with help from business owners in the city.
“If you grow wheat and harvest your apples, you can go into the city and make apple pie. You can then sell that apple pie in the market,” said Verhaeghe.
Along the way, players complete tasks in the three key pillars of sustainability — economic, social, and environmental.
“We wanted to make sure they knew it wasn’t just about being rich and making lots of money — that they also had to give back to the community and make sure the environment was protected and preserved.
“That’s really the foundation for sustainability. That’s the only way we’re going to feed nine billion people by 2050.”
Players are rewarded for following a crop rotation, diversifying commodities, watching markets, buying insurance, and being environmentally friendly. Storage space, land, money, and water are limited resources — and there’s nothing quite like the sense of relief that comes from getting another grain bin or acre of land, selling your canola high, or relishing a well-timed rainfall. But droughts occur, pests cause problems, and hailstorms decimate your crop.
“I think it will give consumers an appreciation of all the work that goes into agriculture across the whole value chain,” said Verhaeghe. “It’s really that pasture-to-plate story.”
The game is geared toward education but somehow, they’ve made that part of the fun, too.
“People like that it’s based on real agriculture. There are real-life videos that pop up. In the animated world, if you decide to purchase chickens, a 30-second video pops up of a real chicken barn. You actually get to see inside the chicken barn.
“It’s just a really wholesome, fun game to play.”
The game’s creators have big plans for down the road. If interest in the game remains high, players will see new levels, new commodities, and new adventures in farming.
“We have a huge icebox of ideas, but we have a few that are going to come in 2018 that are going to change the game world. They’ve never been done before,” said Verhaeghe.
“I think it’s going to blow people away.”
The hope is the game will continue to help bridge the gap between farmers and consumers.
“It’s really important for people to appreciate what happens in agriculture across the value chain — from the farmer to the transporters to the processors to the marketers,” she said.
“There are a lot of people working really hard to feed the world sustainably, and these kinds of games just showcase that.”
Farmers 2050 is available for download in your smartphone’s app store or online.