I have been working on a survival world and am finding it frustrating that my farms do not work when they are not loaded. I have seen previous threads about this and I understand why. Although this does force the player to do cool things like putting all their farms on top of one another or bringing in other accounts to load farms and go afk, I wish there was an alternative. I think there should be an optional mode in settings that is off on default where the game loads the mobs and plants in farther away chunks. Not everything, just the stuff that changes over time. (Maybe ice too?) this way, if u wanted your farms to work you could sacrifice a little gram rate in order to have more successful farming. Does anyone agree/disagree?
The game would have to load practically everything then since nearly every chunk contains blocks that respond to random ticks, such as grass blocks and plants, and there isn't any easy way to detect whether they are in steady state (e.g. no spreading/decaying grass). The game does cull chunk sections based on whether they contain any blocks that need random ticking but it can only load entire chunk columns at a time. There is no question of thin being practical for larger worlds; my first world has over 109000 chunks, which represents over 2 billion blocks and would require around 5 GB of memory to load, more than my computer has (or can be allocated on a 32 bit system).
If anything, there should be a setting to change the ticking area so it can be less than the render distance; this is one reason why Bedrock runs better since it ticks a limited area, which can be adjusted independently, regardless of render distance; likewise, 1.6.4 and older Java versions tick a 7 chunk radius regardless of render distance (this does mean that if render distance is less than 7 performance will be worse than otherwise; conversely, since the number of chunks rises as the square of the radius the performance impact rapidly increases with the radius; with a render distance of 16 ("Far" in 1.7+) the game is ticking 1089 chunks compared to only 225 at any setting in 1.6.4, which is why some people noticed a significant decrease in performance, especially if they had used Optifine to increase render distance further; 32 chunk render distance is 4225 chunks, 18.8 times as many).
That said, Bedrock lets you define up to 10 "ticking areas" with radii of 1-4 chunks, which would be the best compromise between having a single ticking area (spawn chunks, which do not exist in Bedrock) and loading all chunks (note that these areas are not loaded client-side so they do not affect FPS, only server performance and memory usage). They can even spawn mobs, which only spawn near the player in Java, and they do not despawn based on distance (Bedrock handles the mob cap differently, based on density, so there are no issues with general mob spawning as Java does when there are mobs which do not despawn in loaded chunks).
It is also possible to make "chunk loaders" although they do not make chunks fully "functional" as random block updates rely on being within range of a player; only scheduled updates (e.g. redstone) and entities (if a 5x5 area is loaded around them and excluding natural spawning) are active.
What would be cool is if there was a certain craftable object: a fake player. You make it, you set it up and it works pretty much same way as if a player was there. One exception is mobs would not try to attack it, but they would still spawn at proper distances.
Heck, existing beacon system could be adapted to it. Add a new "Presence" effect. Must be op to set on a server. Presence radius depends on pyramid size with full pyramid giving 8 chunk radius.
The beacon idea is interesting, but I don't really find chunk loading and unloading problematic (most of the time). I do use a chunk loaders to keep spawn loaded when no one is playing on my family server, because it only has a single village iron farm, but other than that I find other solutions (faster farms, etc.).
A beacon of "presence" could be useful, though. If you haven't already, you should post that in the suggestions forum (and if there's anywhere more official, post it there as well).