The inevitable is palpable, almost audible. It’s as if we could hear the hungry calls of future generations drowning out the concerns of environmentalists. Last year, the UN expected the world’s population to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050. With it, a higher demand for food brings challenges not just in terms of food production but also controlling the environmental impact.
Aristov Aleksandr – Technologies Must Adapt to Climate Change
Aristov Aleksandr, doctor of economics and agribusiness professional, firmly believes that agricultural practices play a crucial role in environmental sustainability. “Competition for alternative uses of natural resources is increasing,” Aristov says, adding that agricultural techniques and technologies would need to adapt to climate change and more harsh weather conditions. To safeguard the quality and origin of products, he advocates for a multifunctional approach that focuses on expanding our understanding of the interactions between microstructure, processes, product characteristics, and technological innovations.
Of course, the future of the agro-market is shaped by trends that will revolutionize our food system. Here are the most notable ones.
Food Production in the Future
Ingrained in cultures across the globe, meat and dairy products will be in even higher demand than now. But meat production comes with issues like deforestation to make space for growing industrial animal feed like soya, not to mention cattle ranching. That’s precisely why expert ideas are required to produce food in a more environmentally friendly way.
“Precision agriculture is a key way to expand production without increasing the environmental load,” said Curt Blades, the senior vice president for industry sectors and product leadership at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). Using fertilisers, irrigation, and pesticides variably depending on the crops’ needs instead of applying everything at certain quantities, times, and frequencies is one way to address environmental issues, critical for our struggling planet.
But billions more people will not go vegan anytime soon, even though they should. According to research, deleting dairy-based products and meat from one’s nutrition plan is an impactful approach for everyone to reduce their impact on the environment.
Forestry, agriculture, and the use of land alone account for 18.4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Include refrigeration, packaging, and transport, and you have a food system that makes up a staggering 26 percent of the carbon footprint. According to estimates, food production will have increased 68 percent by 2050 – a number not to neglect, given that the growing middle-class population prefers meat to wheat, grains, and legumes.
Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture
An excellent example of precision farming is a collaboration between two companies based in Switzerland and Israel. A spokesperson for Syngenta, a Swiss agrichemical company that collaborates with the Israeli company Phytech, said: “Together, we have developed a monitoring system that includes plant growth sensors soil moisture sensors to help farmers continuously monitor soil health and crop growth and take action when and where necessary.”
Indiana-based regenerative farmer, Rick Clark, who also focuses on soil health, commented: “The biggest obstacle is change. You have to change your mindset to ‘we’re not going to keep doing it that way.’ You’ve got to take a stand and try something different – it’s hard.” Clark spent more than a decade working on soil health through nutrient-building methods, including tilling it, growing cover crops in the off season, and rotational grazing, which help reduce erosion and maintain organic materials in the soil.
But other new farming techniques, like automation, are on the rise. Intentional stewardship with the help of drones and robots, as well as advanced genetics leads to better seeds and more effective fertilisers. Improved mechanics like autonomous tractors are also new methods farmers are embracing in response to the mounting pressure to regulate emission.
Aristov Aleksandr said that it is essential for agri-food system practitioners, farmers and all potential stakeholders to take digital agriculture seriously, as it is becoming a significant aspect of the food system. “The implications of digital agriculture can influence various aspects, including land use, food production, data collection, and resource management, among others. Gaining a profound understanding of digital agriculture is crucial in preparing future food system professionals to effectively address its impact, capitalize on its opportunities, and mitigate potential unintended consequences.”
The Role of the Internet
All in the name of producing more with less environmental impact, digital tools drive the next big transformation. Yet, while AI can give valuable insights into farming with things like maintenance prediction and crop condition analysis in real time, the cybersecurity aspect isn’t something that can be taken lightly now that farm operations are going digital.
Added Blades: “If you haven’t been the victim of a cybersecurity attack yet, well, then you’re going to be. So you need to get ready for it.” He pointed out that most data breaches occurred due to oft overlooked weak links.
Consumer Trust Requires Advanced Food Traceability
Inadequate food safety has ruined consumer trust in the past; it’s the reason why consumers want traceability these days. To be a key player in future markets, businesses need to keep an eye on traceability. And that’s easier when food is produced closer to those who need it.
More Localised Farming Is a Key Trend to Watch
A shorter food supply chain, for example in urban farming, can greatly reduce food miles. Blades was spot-on when he noted: “It just makes a whole lot more sense to raise your lettuce close to where you’re consuming it because, otherwise, you’re just shipping water.”
Greenhouse growing systems and vertical farming initiatives have fundamentally altered the agriculture industry, particularly with leafy greens. Blades has stated that technology is easily transferable to fruits and veggies. Probably not so much row crops, but there’s a lot of interesting things to learn that can absolutely translate into the food supply chain being dramatically different tomorrow than it is today.
Growing crops in vertical layers and plants in nutrient-rich water are techniques that don’t need as much soil and water as conventional field farming methods. The example of New Jersey-based Newark, the world’s largest vertical farm, shows that vertical farming is possible on a massive scale – with fantastic results! According to AeroFarm, the creators, Newark is 390 times more productive per square foot than a field farm.
Adjacent Industries Are Emerging
The growing global population has prompted agriculture departments to introduce multiple income streams for farmers by developing adjacent industries. In carbon markets, farmers can create and offer carbon credits to people in the private sector. Blades concludes: “We don’t know how it’s going to end, but we certainly know there are going to be industries adjacent to the grain industry that will dramatically impact what’s happening in our world today. We just have to be prepared for it.”