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The Future of Agriculture

11 Jul 2016

People tend to get hot under the collar at talk of overpopulation and food production. By 2050, they say, we’ll have over 9 billion people on the planet. And how will we feed them given that arable lands are diminishing and water supplies are growing ever scarce? While these facts are disturbing, there are quite a number of advancements that are improving food production in a variety of ingenious ways.

Hypothetically, we have enough food to feed the world’s current population – we just have problems in getting it to them. Distribution is bedeviled with difficulty in countries without democracy or free markets, or those countries perpetually engaged in war or facing extreme poverty. However, as these situations continue and populations grow – the only way we are going to overcome the numbers problem, is ultimately through technology.

Farmers have been improving crops and livestock since the beginning of agriculture. But soon something called “precision agriculture” is set to be one of the ten key breakthroughs – possibly within the next ten years. With the development of greater use of satellites coupled with sophisticated ground instruments and farm machinery – calculations can be made of the exact and appropriate amounts of seed, water, fertilizer needed to be applied meter by meter to every crop, so that maximum efficiency in food production can be achieved. All activities such as sowing, watering, fertilising and harvesting can all be computer-controlled, including testing and monitoring the standard of the soil – leading to greater and healthier yields with improved time factors. And all this will be made possible through pinpoint assessments from satellites hung like lanterns above the Earth. (The George Washington University Forecast of Technology and Strategy).

Precision agriculture

Genome editing

Farms, already likened to factories by those opposed to large commercial operations, are gearing to turn out even more reliable products, immune from the vagaries of nature. The mapping of every DNA strand of all living things has given us the ability to control both plants and animals in a way that we can expect better health and faster turnaround of all produce. Precise genetic manipulation, known as “genome editing”, makes it possible to change a crop or stock animal’s genome in fine detail, perhaps even to just a single genetic “letter” in its DNA strand.

This technology means that it is no longer necessary to shift whole genes around, but just gently adjust, in minute variations, to obtain a better crop. And it’s hoped that this more precise and less intrusive modification will suit consumers better. Because we can now access any given crop’s DNA means that a particular plant’s characteristics can be precisely selected before growth – the genome holds that information – which is an incredible advance that will save an enormous amount of time with regard to trial and error episodes. These improvements will cut costs, increase yields, and boost farmers’ profits. And also benefit consumers through lower prices. Farming in this controlled way can both increase the volume of food production while reducing strain on the planet’s resources.

Vertical Farming

Indoor horticulture is one of the fastest growing methods of crop production. Already controlled and precise in execution, vertical farming grows crops indoors without soil and sunlight, where they can be fully monitored and kept safe from harmful bacteria.

The development of specialised blue and red LED lights has led to a phenomenal change in the way we need to grow plants for food. Grown in racks 25 feet high, beneath specialised LED lights, and in a constant stream of nutrient-rich water, the plants are monitored by computer, and harvested as often as twice a week. This is incredible volume in a small footprint that is unencumbered by weather or pests.  

LED lights provide optimal lighting for photosynthesis in leafy greens. The interesting thing is that when these plants are situated directly beneath these fine-tuned lights, they don’t grow upwards but outwards in dense leaves – saving growth time and optimising the nutrient quality. A micro-green crop can turn in roughly every 12 days, baby greens about every 30 days, and lettuces about every 35 days whereas field farmers get one or two chances a season to turn crops.

Key advantages include:

  • Fewer resources are required which makes these operations more sustainable.
  • Without climate problems, there is opportunity for year-round growing seasons, using less water and fewer pesticides.
  • This type of farming with it’s 24 hour working spectrum, lends itself to the possibility of using robots to monitor and carry out routine tasks.
  • Because these indoor farms can be established on smaller pieces of land in greater number, the need for long-haul trucks diminishes, saving carbon footprint.
  • It reduces the spoilage that occurs from trucking perishable produce long distances.
  • It meets the growing demand for fresh produce among middle-class urban dwellers.
  • If the world trend continues towards free markets, then these production advantages will hugely contribute to improving world hunger.

Saving our water - the future is here

At Netafim we are dedicated to alleviating water shortage through constant technological innovation. So whether you are farming the traditional way or branching into new experiments, your crops will still need some form of water suppy. Our wide variety of drip irrigation solutions are continuously tested against the challenges farmers face everyday – and we help them plan for the future by working with whatever method they are exploring. Water, at its most economical use, is what we do. It’s our far-reaching and highly successful contribution to the challenges of world food production.

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