The efficiency of farms worldwide will undergo a technological revolution over the course of the next two decades. We need it now more than ever. Since there will be around 10 billion people on the planet by the year 2050, our current food production will need to have increased by a factor of two.
This article examines the agricultural breakthroughs that will bring us there that are now under development. Over the past century, the sector has witnessed significant advances. This is how farming seemed 100 years ago. It seems like this right now. And it’ll appear something like this tomorrow.
Many of us have been able to transform our lives because to these developments. 10.9 million agricultural laborers supplied 76 million people with food in 1900.
321.4 million Americans are now fed by just 6.5 million employees. This increase in production was mostly caused by engines and the widespread use of electricity. The challenge will be developing robotic pickers that can switch between all kinds of crops. Other innovations on the horizon include robots or drones that can precisely remove weeds or shoot them with a targeted spritz of pesticide, using 90% fewer chemicals than a conventional blanket sprayer. UK researchers have already developed an autonomous picker that gathers strawberries twice as fast as humans.
The weeds may be zapped with a laser for the organic farmer instead. The UN estimates that between 20 and 40 percent of the world’s agricultural harvests are damaged by pests and disease each year, thus this might have a significant effect. Farmers will receive notifications on their cellphones when there is a problem or when it is optimal to harvest via tiny sensors and cameras that monitor crop development; The BoniRob can take a soil sample, liquidize it, and then instantly determine the pH and phosphorus content; Researchers at Harper Adams in the UK intend to produce and harvest a whole hectare of barley without the need of any people as a proof-of-concept for all this autonomous farming equipment. Software that analyzes infrared photos taken by drones to find unhealthy plants has already been made available on the market by businesses like Agribotix.
The grower is then notified on their smartphone, much as in a real-life version of “Sim-Farmer,” when a problem area is found. The system’s capacity to distinguish between different crop kinds and the weeds that pose a hazard will continuously advance thanks to machine learning. Not to be left out, PlanetLabs runs a fleet of CubeSats that capture weekly photographs of whole fields from orbit to assist monitor crops; Mavrx hires 100 pilots to fly light planes equipped with multispectral cameras on data-gathering flights over major farms around the country; Other businesses are developing farm management solutions using analytics software, enabling producers of all sizes to handle this new data deluge;
Additionally, The Farmer’s Business Network pools data from several farms to provide its members access to macro-level insights that, in the past, were only available to corporate mega-farms; In order to cultivate leafy greens, vertical farms are essentially warehouses with layers of hydroponic systems.
They are mushrooming up in urban areas where there is a shortage of both land and fresh vegetables.
The expense of energy and the impact that utilizing a lot of it has on the environment are the main challenges in this situation. The advantage is that crops may grow year-round, day and night, under artificial lighting and climate-controlled structures, yielding far more food per square foot than an outside farm. Only pricey, lush greens like lettuce or herbs like basil, however, have so far shown to be viable in the vertical structure. And if this is indeed an environmentally sustainable method is still up for debate; Using blue and red light wavelengths to maximize photosynthesis and accelerate development is one potential answer; this method is being studied by researchers at Project Growing Underground, an experimental farm located in former World War II bomb shelters under London; The Open Agriculture Initiative, which intends to develop a “library of climates” so that temperature and humidity may be regulated to replicate the ideal circumstances for growing foods that would typically come from all over the world, locally instead, is another development in indoor farming.
In an effort to address the “food miles” problem. Produce transportation worldwide results in needless CO2 emissions. To see how severe an issue this is, consider the locations of some of the foods you consume today. Tens of millions more pounds of beef are needed to meet the demand of the millions of individuals who join the middle class each year in emerging nations. These concepts seek to maximize each animal’s potential.
Who would have guessed that Fitbits might also be used for livestock? Smart collars are being installed on cows to detect signs of illness or increased movement, an indication of fertility; At Scotland’s Rural College, scientists are examining cow breath.
- Ketones and sulfides exhaled by an animal might indicate possible dietary issues; Using thermal imaging cameras, one of the dairy industry’s most expensive setbacks, mastitis, a bacterial infection, is detected sooner and treated; Calves weight and muscle mass are immediately measured using 3-D cameras to ensure the heaviest cattle are sold; Businesses have even started installing microphones above pig cages to listen for coughs, allowing them to cure ill animals 12 days sooner than before. A system of merely three cameras, designed by researchers in Belgium, watches the movements of thousands of hens to study their behavior and identify over 90% of potential issues; Less antibiotics are required if fewer birds fall unwell for shorter periods of time; Here’s a statistic that I found startling: we currently consume more farmed fish than we do beef. To broaden the variety of fish farmed, researchers are working.
To enable the construction of saltwater fish farms inland, aquaculturists at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore are creating an artificial environment that simulates ocean conditions. Via contrast to eating frozen fish that must be transported thousands of miles in energy-intensive refrigerated vehicles, this would enable millions of people who live in landlocked areas to enjoy fresh fish.
The most intriguing aspect of this experimental fish farm is that it truly operates as a closed system that ingeniously combines three distinct bacterial species to generate all of its own energy. [Dr. Yonathan Zohar]: “This fish was raised in the most sustainable manner possible.
The system is entirely enclosed and secure. There is no environmental contact.
Waste doesn’t exist. The main issue with aquaculture nowadays is that there is zero trash that is returned to the environment. Without limiting my hunger for sushi, this ground-breaking method may be essential for protecting endangered species in the wild, such as bluefin tuna populations that are fast declining; Proteinaceous fish meal pellets created from the bodies of bacteria that multiply by ingesting a mixture of methane, oxygen, and nitrogen are another inventive idea from a business in California.
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, 2 billion people eat insects regularly. I eat insects like this because they are nutritious, said the bug eater. They are not overly fatty, but they are filled with healthy nutrients that feed the body. You won’t get sick very often if you consume them regularly. One of the most affordable, nutrient-dense, and sustainable sources of protein is insects. As a result, there is an expanding trend to discover novel methods to include them into culinary items that may be sold without making consumers cringe. Protein powder and bug flour are two examples. Insects may still be very helpful to us as animal feed, even if they never wind up on many of our plates. Lab-grown meat is at the opposite extreme of the alternative protein range. The first hamburger manufactured from lab-grown muscle cells was produced in the Netherlands in 2013. A meatball was then produced by Memphis Meats in California.
These made headlines, but before we start purchasing synthetic beef in large amounts, production prices must drastically decrease. So it’s healthier for the environment, says [Dr. Mark Post]. And because it takes a lot less energy to manufacture, we can feed the entire globe by producing a lot more meat with a lot less energy. We’ll probably look back on this time as quite barbarous because we were still killing and exploiting animals so much for our meat intake. Due to our need on the environment for our existence, humans have been forced to utilize and alter it.
Some of our most effective inventions are designed to address issues that we ourselves create. The likelihood of a worldwide food scarcity is growing worse as climatic patterns shift and the human population expands; even the deployment of millions of autonomous farmer-bots would not likely be sufficient to address this problem. Bacterial robots may succeed where human-made ones fail, which brings me to the technique that can continue to produce the largest improvements in agricultural yield: genetic modification.
- Scientific developments like CRISPR, genomic selection, and SNPs now make it possible to precisely change a gene’s single letters. CRISPR, a gene editing technology adapted from bacteria, more closely resembles the process of random mutation than other methods of genetic modification, such as transgenic changes that produced uncontrolled mutations to vast sections of DNA. This mechanism is essential for Darwinian natural selection, environmental adaptability, and — in the end — evolution.
Even if this fact might not be enough to appease even the most ardent opponents of genetically modified organisms, extremely precise methods like CRISPR should help allay the valid health and environmental worries that have so far prevented large financial expenditures. However, not everyone is watching from a distance. Two significant agricultural corporations, DuPont and Syngenta, have created the AQUAmax and Artesian strains of maize via genome selection.
The NextGen Cassava project is another initiative that aims to “significantly increase the rate of genetic improvement in cassava breeding to unlock the full potential of this staple crop that is central to food security and livelihoods throughout Africa.” It is run by Cornell University in collaboration with research centers throughout the continent.
Rice, one of the most important crops in the world, has seen its yield plateau, meaning that, for years now, the maximum amount that can be grown on, say, an acre of land, has not increased. Genetically improving the cultivation of other crops that haven’t been modified yet could also result in enormous yield increases for millet and yams, for example. The C4 Rice Project, a significant international partnership with 18 biology labs dispersed across four continents, aims to change that. Their objective is to genetically modify a new strain of rice such that its photosynthetic mechanism functions more similarly to that of maize, which may possibly increase its production by 50%. Of course, the problem is not limited to crops; pig lines are also being modified to make them resistant to a disease that costs American farmers $600 million year.
We should be following each of these innovations even if it is difficult to say which will have the most influence on food production. Utilizing genetic technology will unavoidably prove necessary for overcoming what would seem be an impossible barrier, tripling our global food supply sustainably. The good news is that some of the smartest scientists, engineers, farmers, and inventors in the world are attempting to find a solution to this issue.