The G20 Agriculture Ministers held a virtual meeting today to maintain close cooperation to address impact of Covid-19 on food supply and take concrete actions to protect global food security and nutrition. During the meeting, the G20 Agriculture Ministers highlighted the importance of ensuring “the continued flow of food, products, and inputs essential for agricultural and food production across borders, in line with the G20 Leaders’ Statement on COVID-19 of March 26, 2020.” G20 Agriculture Ministers said that they acknowledge the challenges facing member states in minimizing the risk of the pandemic on food supply while keeping food supply chains functioning. They called to avoid “any unjustified restrictive measures that could lead to excessive food price volatility in international markets and threaten the food security and nutrition of large proportions of the world population.”
“We agree that emergency measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global food supply chains, and are consistent with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules,” G20 Agriculture Ministers said in a statement, stressing the importance of the G20 Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS).
“We commit and call on other members to continue providing timely and reliable information on global food market fundamentals to help markets, countries, and consumers make informed choices.” G20 Agriculture Ministers will work closely together “to ensure that adequate, safe and nutritious food continues to be available and accessible to all people, including the poorest, the most vulnerable and displaced people” in a safe, timely and orderly manner, in line with national requirements. G20 Agriculture Ministers called for “enhanced cooperation between the public and private sectors to help mobilize rapid and innovative responses to impacts of this epidemic on the food and agriculture industries”. They stressed the importance of avoiding food losses and waste caused by food supply chains disruptions, which would aggravate food insecurity, nutrition risks and economic loss.They urged to enhance the sustainability and resilience of food systems at a global level, “including future shocks from disease and pest outbreaks and the global challenges driving these shocks.” “In line with the One Health approach, we call for strengthened mechanisms for monitoring, early warning, preparedness, prevention, detection, response, and control of zoonotic diseases, and developing science-based international guidelines on stricter safety and hygienic measures for zoonosis control,” said Ministers. G20 Agriculture Ministers thanked farmers, workers, and small, medium and large-sized agri-food businesses for their ongoing efforts to ensure food supplies for all. Ministers expressed willingness to work closely with relevant international organizations and within their mandates to strengthen international cooperation, identify additional measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition, and share best practices and lessons learned. They said that they will take any additional measures as necessary to contain the pandemic, confirming their readiness to reconvene as required.
BANGKOK, Thailand — The kingdom of Saudi Arabia claims to be on course to up its farmed shrimp output to 200,000 metric tons by 2025 as part of the state’s ambitious aquaculture development program, announced earlier this year.
The state is investing $400 million in developing its total aquaculture output to 600,000t over the next five years, meaning that shrimp is set to account for a third of the Saudi market by volume.
According to Haydar Al Sahtout, an adviser to the Saudi Aquaculture Society, the country’s shrimp production is set to drop in 2019 from 64,025t to approximately 50,000t; however, this is expected to be a one-off drop within a longer-term upward trend, the adviser said, speaking at the recent Infofish shrimp conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
“We expect a slight drop in 2019, but again strong new projects are in the pipeline under construction, with big investments and international investors on the way — many of you have heard or read about the plans now,” Al Sahtout told listeners.
The state government will be making Best Aquaculture Practices certification mandatory for all shrimp farmers by next year, Al Sahtout added, noting that the Middle Eastern kingdom has been developing strong biosecurity measures in an effort to safeguard against diseases as the industry grows.
In Saudi Arabia, shrimp farming is almost entirely situated along the southern shores of the Red Sea, and there are no small-scale individual farms — all are vertically-integrated farming projects, with feed mills, hatcheries, farms and processing plants all connected under the same umbrella.
“Only vannamei is allowed in the country for now, although there are some plans for bringing in freshwater shrimp in the eastern province later on,” Al Sahtout said.
The country also obtains its specific pathogen-free, or SPF, shrimp broodstock from Thailand, he added, provided by agri-conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF).
Middle East set for rapid shrimp growth despite 2019 whitespot setback
Production across the Middle East is likely to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead, with strong government support leading to a slew of farming expansion projects across the region, according to Al Sahtout.
However, 2019 has seen a drop in total shrimp production across the region to just under 100,000t, believed to be caused by outbreaks of whitespot disease this year.
Robins Macintosh, executive vice-president of CPF, noted that Saudi Arabian farmers had also been importing shrimp broodstock that was specific-pathogen resistant/ specific pathogen tolerant/ all pathogens exposed from other sources besides CPF, which were attributed for spreading the syndrome.
Nevertheless, those farms where whitespot had been detected were still performing relatively well, he said.
The expectation is that shrimp production in the Middle East will rise to 500,000 metric tons before the end of 2030, adviser Al Sahtout said.
In part, this will be driven by major government projects in existing shrimp farming players Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, as well as the development of new production sites in Oman and Qatar.
In late 2017, Egypt opened a major new integrated tilapia and shrimp farm, the largest in the Middle East, at a cost of $90 million, built in a partnership between China’s Guangdong Evergreen Group and the Egyptian military.
The effects of this new development are unclear, Al Sahtout said, as official data has been difficult to come by.
“So far the production over the past 10 years has been steadily growing, but we are not sure what has been happening over the past three or four years,” he told listeners. “In Egypt, we are not aware of diseases, but whether production has remained stable at 7,000t from 2014 or gone up or down, we can’t say for certain.”
Iran’s export-oriented vannamei industry is also promising to rise sharply in production over the next decade, according to Al Sahtout.
“In 2018, they reached 45,000t, we expect slightly lower production in 2019, but they are preparing to take off to more than 60,000t by 2021.”
Major new government projects in Oman and Qatar have also set lofty production targets; Oman is currently developing five shrimp farms with backing from Thailand and Singapore, with a 2030 target of 71,200t of shrimp per year.
Meanwhile, Qatar, which currently has no shrimp farms at all, has plans to set up some initial farms using US technology capable of producing 3,000t per year, then rapidly ramping up annual production to a goal of 100,000t in the next five years.
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The company aims to achieve an output of 300,000 metric tons by 2035.
Four Saudi aquaculture firms have merged in a SAR 500 million ($133 million/€120 million) deal, Reuters reported.
The merged entities include the aquaculture division of Jazan Energy and Development Company (Jazadco), Tabuk Fisheries Company, Tharawat Seas and Aquaculture Sharq Farms. The new company, Advanced Aquaculture Company, is expected to have an initial production of 60,000 metric tons. Species farmed include seabass, seabream and shrimp.
The company aims to achieve an output of 300,000 metric tons by 2035.
The Saudi Press Agency said the move was in line with the ministry’s goals of developing local aquaculture and more mergers were to be expected in the sector.
Saudi Arabia stressed that the pumping water, as well as agricultural activity and supply chains, are operating regularly and are unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak. It added that operations on food security projects were working at the highest levels amid the global pandemic.
According to the Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman al-Fadhli, the ministry’s various sectors are working smoothly and in continuous coordination to secure food and water supplies.
While inspecting food security projects in Riyadh, Fadhli said water pumping is operating smoothly throughout the Kingdom, with 9.7 million cubic meters being provided daily. Operations at desalination plants are moving smoothly.
On the agriculture sector, Fadhli said that the Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO) is capable, when needed, to produce about 270,000 flour bags, weighing 45 kilograms each, per day.
A statement by the ministry, a copy of which was obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, revealed that the Kingdom’s storage capacity of wheat stands at about 3.3 million tons, with production at 15,100 tons per day.
On fresh food, the ministry said the country can produce over 180,000 tons of various vegetables per month.
There are no shortages in the market, it stressed. Poultry production is at 3.5 billion chickens and 15 million eggs per day. Milk production exceeds 7.5 million liters and seafood 437 tons per day.
Innovation is more important in modern agriculture than ever before. The industry as a whole is facing huge challenges, from rising costs of supplies, a shortage of labor, and changes in consumer preferences for transparency and sustainability. There is increasing recognition from agriculture corporations that solutions are needed for these challenges. In the last 10 years, agriculture technology has seen a huge growth in investment, with $6.7 billion invested in the last 5 years and $1.9 billion in the last year alone. Major technology innovations in the space have focused around areas such as indoor vertical farming, automation and robotics, livestock technology, modern greenhouse practices, precision agriculture and artificial intelligence, and blockchain.
Indoor Vertical Farming
ndoor vertical farming can increase crop yields, overcome limited land area, and even reduce farming’s impact on the environment by cutting down distance traveled in the supply chain. Indoor vertical farming can be defined as the practice of growing produce stacked one above another in a closed and controlled environment. By using growing shelves mounted vertically, it significantly reduces the amount of land space needed to grow plants compared to traditional farming methods. This type of growing is often associated with city and urban farming because of its ability to thrive in limited space. Vertical farms are unique in that some setups don’t require soil for plants to grow. Most are either hydroponic, where vegetables are grown in a nutrient-dense bowl of water, or aeroponic, where the plant roots are systematically sprayed with water and nutrients. In lieu of natural sunlight, artificial grow lights are used.
From sustainable urban growth to maximizing crop yield with reduced labor costs, the advantages of indoor vertical farming are apparent. Vertical farming can control variables such as light, humidity, and water to precisely measure year-round, increasing food production with reliable harvests. The reduced water and energy usage optimizes energy conservation — vertical farms use up to 70% less water than traditional farms. Labor is also greatly reduced by using robots to handle harvesting, planting, and logistics, solving the challenge farms face from the current labor shortage in the agriculture industry.
Vertical farms use up to 70% less water than traditional farms.
Farm automation, often associated with “smart farming”, is technology that makes farms more efficient and automates the crop or livestock production cycle. An increasing number of companies are working on robotics innovation to develop drones, autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, automatic watering, and seeding robots. Although these technologies are fairly new, the industry has seen an increasing number of traditional agriculture companies adopt farm automation into their processes.
New advancements in technologies ranging from robotics and drones to computer vision software have completely transformed modern agriculture. The primary goal of farm automation technology is to cover easier, mundane tasks. Some major technologies that are most commonly being utilized by farms include: harvest automation, autonomous tractors, seeding and weeding, and drones. Farm automation technology addresses major issues like a rising global population, farm labor shortages, and changing consumer preferences. The benefits of automating traditional farming processes are monumental by tackling issues from consumer preferences, labor shortages, and the environmental footprint of farming.
Livestock Farming Technology
The traditional livestock industry is a sector that is widely overlooked and under-serviced, although it is arguably the most vital. Livestock provides much needed renewable, natural resources that we rely on every day. Livestock management has traditionally been known as running the business of poultry farms, dairy farms, cattle ranches, or other livestock-related agribusinesses. Livestock managers must keep accurate financial records, supervise workers, and ensure proper care and feeding of animals. However, recent trends have proven that technology is revolutionizing the world of livestock management. New developments in the past 8-10 years have made huge improvements to the industry that make tracking and managing livestock much easier and data-driven. This technology can come in the form of nutritional technologies, genetics, digital technology, and more.
Livestock technology can enhance or improve the productivity capacity, welfare, or management of animals and livestock. The concept of the ‘connected cow’ is a result of more and more dairy herds being fitted with sensors to monitor health and increase productivity. Putting individual wearable sensors on cattle can keep track of daily activity and health-related issues while providing data-driven insights for the entire herd. All this data generated is also being turned into meaningful, actionable insights where producers can look quickly and easily to make quick management decisions.
Animal genomics can be defined as the study of looking at the entire gene landscape of a living animal and how they interact with each other to influence the animal’s growth and development. Genomics help livestock producers understand the genetic risk of their herds and determine the future profitability of their livestock. By being strategic with animal selection and breeding decisions, cattle genomics allows producers to optimize profitability and yields of livestock herds.
Sensor and data technologies have huge benefits for the current livestock industry. It can improve the productivity and welfare of livestock by detecting sick animals and intelligently recognizing room for improvement. Computer vision allows us to have all sorts of unbiased data that will get summarized into meaningful, actionable insights. Data-driven decision making leads to better, more efficient, and timely decisions that will advance the productivity of livestock herds.
Livestock technology can enhance or improve the productivity capacity, welfare, or management of animals and livestock.
In recent decades, the Greenhouse industry has been transforming from small scale facilities used primarily for research and aesthetic purposes (i.e., botanic gardens) to significantly more large-scale facilities that compete directly with land-based conventional food production. Combined, the entire global greenhouse market currently produces nearly US $350 billion in vegetables annually, of which U.S. production comprises less than one percent.
Nowadays, in large part due to the tremendous recent improvements in growing technology, the industry is witnessing a blossoming like no time before. Greenhouses today are increasingly emerging that are large-scale, capital-infused, and urban-centered.
As the market has grown dramatically, it has also experienced clear trends in recent years. Modern greenhouses are becoming increasingly tech-heavy, using LED lights and automated control systems to perfectly tailor the growing environment. Successful greenhouse companies are scaling significantly and located their growing facilities near urban hubs to capitalize on the ever-increasing demand for local food, no matter the season.
To accomplish these feats, the greenhouse industry is also becoming increasingly capital-infused, using venture funding and other sources to build out the infrastructure necessary to compete in the current market.
The entire global greenhouse market currently produces nearly US $350 billion in vegetables annually.
Agriculture is undergoing an evolution – technology is becoming an indispensable part of every commercial farm. New precision agriculture companies are developing technologies that allow farmers to maximize yields by controlling every variable of crop farming such as moisture levels, pest stress, soil conditions, and micro-climates. By providing more accurate techniques for planting and growing crops, precision agriculture enables farmers to increase efficiency and manage costs.
Precision agriculture companies have found a huge opportunity to grow. A recent report by Grand View Research, Inc. predicts the precision agriculture market to reach $43.4 billion by 2025. The emerging new generation of farmers are attracted to faster, more flexible startups that systematically maximize crop yields.
Blockchain’s capability of tracking ownership records and tamper-resistance can be used to solve urgent issues such as food fraud, safety recalls, supply chain inefficiency and food traceability in the current food system. Blockchain’s unique decentralized structure ensures verified products and practices to create a market for premium products with transparency.
Food traceability has been at the center of recent food safety discussions, particularly with new advancements in blockchain applications. Due to the nature of perishable food, the food industry at whole is extremely vulnerable to making mistakes that would ultimately affect human lives. When foodborne diseases threaten public health, the first step to root-cause analysis is to track down the source of contamination and there is no tolerance for uncertainty.
Consequently, traceability is critical for the food supply chain. The current communication framework within the food ecosystem makes traceability a time-consuming task since some involved parties are still tracking information on paper. The structure of blockchain ensures that each player along the food value chain would generate and securely share data points to create an accountable and traceable system. Vast data points with labels that clarify ownership can be recorded promptly without any alteration. As a result, the record of a food item’s journey, from farm to table, is available to monitor in real-time.
The use cases of blockchain in food go beyond ensuring food safety. It also adds value to the current market by establishing a ledger in the network and balancing market pricing. The traditional price mechanism for buying and selling relies on judgments of the involved players, rather than the information provided by the entire value chain. Giving access to data would create a holistic picture of the supply and demand. The blockchain application for trades might revolutionize traditional commodity trading and hedging as well. Blockchain enables verified transactions to be securely shared with every player in the food supply chain, creating a marketplace with immense transparency.
Blockchain can be used to solve urgent issues such as food fraud, safety recalls, supply chain inefficiency, and food traceability in the current food system.
The rise of digital agriculture and its related technologies has opened a wealth of new data opportunities. Remote sensors, satellites, and UAVs can gather information 24 hours per day over an entire field. These can monitor plant health, soil condition, temperature, humidity, etc. The amount of data these sensors can generate is overwhelming, and the significance of the numbers is hidden in the avalanche of that data.
The idea is to allow farmers to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground through advanced technology (such as remote sensing) that can tell them more about their situation than they can see with the naked eye. And not just more accurately but also more quickly than seeing it walking or driving through the fields.
Remote sensors enable algorithms to interpret a field’s environment as statistical data that can be understood and useful to farmers for decision-making. Algorithms process the data, adapting and learning based on the data received. The more inputs and statistical information collected, the better the algorithm will be at predicting a range of outcomes. And the aim is that farmers can use this artificial intelligence to achieve their goal of a better harvest through making better decisions in the field.
With the global population reaching 7.7 billion as of 2019, sustainable farming is taking center stage in the agriculture technologies industry. More focus has been placed by governmental and international bodies to achieve “sustainable intensification” in agriculture. Creating more sustainable farming practices increasingly requires adopting new technologies that help with crop management, pest control, quality control, and integrated disease management.
These new technologies are important steps to allow current and future generations of farmers to grow without compromising the needs of the earth.
With one in seven people facing starvation on earth, there has been an ever-increasing pressure for farmers to maximize productivity. All while maintaining environmental and economic efficiency. Farmers often face a race against the clock with minimal hands-on deck to plant and harvest, especially with the volatility of recent unpredictable climates. It is with this that technology comes into play. A technological revolution has brought about new agricultural innovations that will change the landscape of farm and orchard management.
Here we explore just ten of these emerging tools that can help today’s farmers achieve precision and increase productivity.
Since the dawn of farming, the battle between farmers and birds has been a perpetual struggle. Pests like starlings, blackbirds, and crows can destroy up to 75% of crops within 48 hours of harvest, leading to a huge loss in revenue. Growers have tried everything in the name of pest control. From traditional scarecrows to propane cannons, none which have outrun the evolutionary wit of nature.
Recently, a researcher from the University of Rhode Island has invented a new deterrent to keep these birds away. The laser scarecrow projects green laser lighting not visible by humans in the sun. They are effective due to birds’ sensitivity to the color green. The automated laser darts across fields up to 600 feet and effectively startle birds enough to prevent them from destroying any crop. They are also less environmentally destructive and less labor-intensive compared to the use of netting.
There have been different variations of the laser technology, some of which come solar-powered, and with an auto-targeting system on birds. The technology has also been adopted by pest control companies who claim the device can prevent up to 90% of crop losses. It is a silent tactic that doesn’t disrupt neighbors. It is highly effective and to date, comes with a low chance of birds adapting to its scare tactics.
An exciting new development in disease control management is bee vectoring. A company in Canada has proven bee vectoring to be effective in integrated disease management and pest control. The technology uses a naturally occurring fungus called BVT-CR7, or Vectorite, that helps protect crops from a variety of diseases. The Vectorite solution is placed inside a hive of commercially raised bees and the bees collect the solution whenever they exit the hive. The solution is then distributed by the bees to the surrounding crops and fields. Besides increased disease resistance, the technology also enhances plant growth and naturally prolongs the shelf life of crops. All of these benefits come without the use of chemical pesticides. The innovation is ground-breaking as it integrates nature with agricultural industry systems.
Harvest Quality Vision - HQV
Pioneered by Croptracker, the Harvest Quality Vision (HQV) is a new technology that simplifies the harvesting process of fruits and vegetables by eliminating the need for manual inspections.
Released this year, HQV uses computerized scanners to capture and determine the quality and quantity of crops. The huge volume of apples and other fruit harvested at one time means that most fruit is not being graded before it is put into storage. Using a camera to grade produce means better sorting and management of the produce without damage caused by human or machine handling. The software creates alerts whenever there are deviations such as diseases, defects, and quantity shortages so that growers can correct their course of actions early in the harvesting process. HQV helps farmers produce more consistent crops of higher quality, which increases the farm’s revenue. Currently this technology is only available through Croptracker for apple grading and sorting, but plans to roll out grading systems for other crop types are expected soon.
Product Testing In-field or On-site
The farming practices of some crops such as Cannabis and Hemp, are highly regulated and require strict lab testing and reporting. Many other crops benefit from monitoring moisture and contaminant levels throughout growth. As such, extra costs are incurred with the requirement of lengthy sampling and lab procedures. This creates a demand for innovations in in-field product testing technologies that can lower the cost, hassle, and wait time to get lab results.
LightLab is one of these inventions. The portable and lightweight equipment can accurately test for the cannabinoid profile of such crops outside of the lab. Sampling and tests can now be carried out in the field or at processing centers, saving growers time and simplifying the production process.
Another device that carries out a similar function on grain crops is the MINI GAC® 2500. The equipment can capture accurate readings to render benefits such as an expanded grain temperature range and faster analysis time. This results in an elimination of shrink charges and dockage fees as well as better control over the drying process of crops.
Crop & Soil Monitoring & Management
Precision farming involves a lot of data collection and management. It can be tedious and prone to human error. FarmBeats is one of the innovators who has made a breakthrough in this field with the use of sensors, drones, satellites, and tractors. The technology works in real-time, which feeds it into a cloud-based model to render a detailed picture of how the farm is performing.
Other applications such as Agrocares can help farmers efficiently and affordably monitor and analyze soil fertility, such as its nutrients, feed, leaves, and insect contents. It produces reliable and fast data that can provide management recommendations to simplify the process flow of farming. Just like FarmBeats, the innovation utilizes cloud-based technology, which allows it to run in real-time.
Tools such as SGS can also help you to strategize a nutrient delivery plan that can increase crop yields, enhance environmental protection, and fine-tune precision. This is done through precise sampling, mapping, and testing with the help of GPS and GIS. Growers can now be in full control in understanding the soil’s macro and micronutrients, as well as its salinity, carbon content, and other factors so as to achieve optimal conditions when planting.
Automated Farm Equipment
Automated farming equipment such as a self-driven tractor or seeder solves the problem of both time-constraints and labor shortages.
Machines like these can work round the clock tirelessly to bring higher yields in a shorter time. They are perfect for orchard management as they allow farmers to work on more important things, such as strategizing an improvement in quality for their crops instead of focusing on menial and manual labor
Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that utilizes radio waves to capture information tagged to an object. They have similar functions as a barcode but work more efficiently and comprehensively in a farm setting as they can be read invisibly and from several feet away in the dirt. Unlike the barcode, RFID can also be reprogrammed and can hold up to 2KB of data, including information such as location, date, and time.
Croptracker has harnessed the technology of RFID for the use of the harvest, storage, and packing of crops. It reduces data errors through automation and allows for enhanced traceability and swift recall management when the need arises. The technology eliminates the risk of costly human error during organization processes. With RFID, customers will be able to know the origins of the product they have on hand, which will lead to more customer loyalty and trust.
Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) is an emerging technology used to enhance the accuracy of existing GPS signals. The technique eliminates the majority of standard GPS errors to centimeter-level accuracy. RTK improves GPS or satellite tracking with stationary receivers in the field to predict more accurately the yields and expenses of farming. This technology is being applied to land surveying mostly right now with the goal of aligning the best plant density and treatment plans to the land being planted.
With the urbanization and industrial development of countries comes a loss of arable lands for farming. A third of arable land has already been lost over the last 40 years, and vertical farming might be the salvaging solution.
With the technique of growing crops in vertically stacked or inclined surfaces that can be integrated into other structures or buildings, vertical farming can produce more crops with less space. This can be the answer to meeting the increasing food demands of an ever-growing population, especially in cities. Farmers can also take advantage of greenhouse settings that can be integrated into vertical farming. This means the production of year-round seasonal crops without any effects from the climate.
Genetic engineers have harnessed the application of minichromosome technology to enhance the genetic traits of a plant. Although containing only small amounts of genetic material, the minichromosome can be manipulated with the use of genetic engineering to achieve bio-fortification, the enhancement, or supplementation of the crop’s nutritional content. It can also improve crop resistance with new traits such as drought tolerance.
Because of the minimal amounts of genetic material minichromosomes contain, they make effective vectors to express foreign genes without the interference with the host’s natural development and growth. The technology has not been fully explored and has great potential for broad applications in agriculture. Because of the utilization of the plant’s original chromosomes, there is a less negative connotation labeled by consumers compared to other genetically modified foods.
Digitization in the modern age means that almost every contemporary field or industry is becoming more and more reliant on hardware connected to and, in some cases, controlled by software. These industries are being transformed from the inside out by innovative technology and practices, and even traditionally analogue ways of life are finding it difficult to resist disruption.
Agriculture is a prime example of one of these industries, with the experts at Maryville University actually including it as one of ten “on fire” fields for up-and-coming software developers.
“The agriculture industry has experienced a massive technological shift of late,” they write. “Precision agriculture involves big data, drones, sensors, and farm management software … Environmental controls, cellular agriculture (micro farms), smart packaging technology, gene manipulation, and e-grocer businesses have also pushed the entire agricultural business world into the computer age.”
These innovative practices and technologies may very well prove to be more than just the future of farming and agriculture — they may be the very keys to the survival of the human race.
Here are five innovative agricultural practices and technologies that are changing the world.
1. Urban Agriculture, Smart Design, and Vertical Farms
The big advantage that urban farming touts is the innovative reimagining and utilization of space. Urban farms might be as humble as your traditional, outdoor community garden. On the other hand, they might be as complex and futuristic as well-regulated, self-contained, environmentally controlled pods that are stacked on top of each other.
In one of the latest trends in urban farming, vertical farming, we’ve begun to realize yields that are nearly 10 times more efficient than traditional agriculture. “Vertical farming doesn’t promise to radically change the way we farm, only make it more efficient, productive, and take up less space,” writes Jelor Gallego with Futurism.com.
Traditional farmers could take a lesson from vertical farmers in their buildings and design, adopting the tenets of smart design to reduce waste and increase yield. Josh Tittle, writing on smart and sustainable barn design, reminds that it’s easy to get carried away by what you want rather than what you need.
“ … more space means more energy that’s needed for heat and light, which in turn makes for higher costs and more wasted resources. Instead of building a larger structure, consider what it is you need at the moment and design an efficient space for that purpose,” he writes.
As we continue to overpopulate our world and take up space, we’ll need to rely on efficiency in spaces and growth to continue to feed ourselves. Unfortunately, no matter how high we build or how intelligently we design, human beings are causing extensive damage and change to our environments, impacting our ability to raise healthy, mature crops.
2. The Drones & the Bees
Climate change is a massive problem for human beings that, perhaps, hasn’t been fully realized yet — but it’s no secret that we’re on an extremely destructive path.
Pollination aside, there are plenty of ways that that agriculture could utilize drones, including aerial drone photography for a quick look at fields, automated crop harvest, and even as delivery drones in the future. This will be further compounded by a further rise in automation, A.I., and the IoT.
“If climate change continues to worsen, food shortages could drive prices higher even in more developed countries like the U.S., leading to a public health crisis in the form of global food shortages and waves of hunger,” write the experts at the University of Reno, Nevada in their blog. “As such, public health officials should turn their attention to exploring efforts to shore up food reserves and alternative forms of agriculture.”
One of the problems that it seems everybody is familiar with is the problem of disappearing bees — Time magazine claims that there are more than 700 species of North American Bee that headed toward extinction. This could spell disaster, as bees “play an important economic role as pollinators helping sustain agricultural production,” they write. “In the United States, that value reaches billions of dollars annually, according to a 2015 White House report.”
Fortunately, drones are now being used in experiments to, hopefully, supplement the pollination efforts that bees have traditionally completed.
“The Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette has become the first apple orchard in the world to pollinate its trees using a drone, according to the start-up company that developed the technology,” writes Rick Moriarty with Syracuse.com.
3. Artificial Intelligence, IoT, and Automation
When we think about the future of driving, we generally think about cars on the road and commuters that aren’t required to keep their hands on the wheel — because A.I. is doing the driving. What we generally don’t think about, however, is driverless vehicles on the farm. Nevertheless, a company called Smart Ag has announced functional driverless tractor technology in the form of “AutoCart” software, according to Matthew J. Grassi with Precision Ag.
“This software application fully automates a grain cart tractor, which provide farmers much needed assistance during the demanding harvest season,” he writes. “Colin Hurd, the founder and CEO of Smart Ag, said the innovative technology will allow farmers to automate their existing equipment and maximize its efficiency and capacity – regardless of manufacturer.”
The AutoCart software is actually a cloud-based platform, meaning that these automated ag vehicles will join the worldwide internet of things (IoT).
Of course, automated vehicles are just one facet of machine learning and IoT innovation in agriculture. Kristin Houser reports that Chinese farmers have recently begun “testing a new AI system that uses a combination of machine vision, voice recognition, and temperature sensors to keep track of pigs’ location, health, and wellbeing.”
It’s important to remember that much of AI’s true potential has yet to even be realized and that the field is still very much in its infancy. A little further along, however, is blockchain technology — the same tech behind the latest financial phenomenon, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
4. Blockchain Technology
While most people know the blockchain for its application in cryptocurrency finance, the agricultural world is beginning to get to know this innovative new technology in another capacity.
Commodity traders Louis Dreyfus Co. (LDC) recently completed the first blockchain-powered agricultural trade, selling and delivering 60,000 tons of soybeans to China in December 2017. This trade represents how the blockchain will likely be used in agriculture early on, with decentralized transactions and self-executing smart contracts.
“Most of the early applications of blockchain in agriculture have to do with traceability and supply chains; a blockchain ledger could record and update the status of crops from planting to harvest to storage to delivery,” writes Remi Schmaltz with AgFunder News. “The upside for large operations is a secure, immutable ledger that ensures you never lose a load. The status of all your crops is available in real time.”
Another way that the blockchain can be used is for resource management, like tracking machinery maintenance records or for tracking other sensors and equipment.
5. CRISPR and Genetic Editing
Scientists have recently begun utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 to do precise genetic “surgeries,” so-to-speak, allowing them to target and alter the genome of an organism by cutting out or replacing specific parts of a DNA strand’s genetic sequence. Medical News Today reports that genetic editing via this avenue has been shown to lower cholesterol in monkeys, and could be used to eradicate the herpes virus in humans.
Now, CRISPR is being used to change a cow’s gut microbes to try and reduce the amount of methane they are producing as well as how large they get.
“Tweaking cow microbiomes to make more meat on less food could make the meat industry more efficient and more profitable,” writes Chelsea Gohd with Futurism.com. “Given that methane has roughly 25 times the heat trapping ability of carbon dioxide, reducing cows’ methane production could also have a serious impact on the environment.”
Scientists have also begun engineering crops that require less water and that grow more food. Of course, there could be unforeseen consequences when it comes to messing with genetics in any environment or ecosystem — we’ll have to be extremely cautious that we don’t create more problems in an attempt to solve a few.
These are just a couple of ways that innovative agricultural practices are changing our future, and making the world a more liveable place. Without these innovations, it’s worth mentioning that climate change’s effect on crop growth and the threat of overpopulation could decimate the human race. Innovation in agriculture isn’t just interesting — it’s essential to our survival!
Agricultural drone technology has been improving in the last few years, and the benefits of drones in agriculture are becoming more apparent to farmers. Drone applications in agriculture range from mapping and surveying to cropdusting and spraying.
Agriculture and farming is one of the oldest and most important professions in the world. Humanity has come a long way over the millennia in how we farm and grow crops with the introduction of various technologies. As the world population continues to grow and land becomes more scarce, people have needed to get creative and become more efficient about how we farm, using less land to produce more crops and increasing the productivity and yield of those farmed acres. Worldwide, agriculture is a $5 trillion industry, and now the industry is turning to AI technologies to help yield healthier crops, control pests, monitor soil and growing conditions, organize data for farmers, help with workload, and improve a wide range of agriculture-related tasks in the entire food supply chain.
There are various growing concerns over agricultural sustainability, including forecasted water shortages by 2030. In order to address this issue, a digital farming technology has been developed in Japan. Experienced farmers are able to use water and fertilizers more efficiently, thanks to their extensive experiences, knowledge and know-how. By utilizing the IoT and AI to collect and analyze data from their farming practices and the surrounding environment, this technology enables even inexperienced growers to implement such intangible techniques. It can improve agricultural productivity even in areas with limited access to water. This technology is expected to bring a huge change to the future of sustainable agriculture.
Water, fertilizer, experience and knowledge are essential to agriculture.
But agriculture that relies on large amounts of water and fertilizer faces sustainability issues.
IoT and AI are coming into wider use in Japan as a way to spread sustainable farming.
Routrek Networks, Inc.
President & CEO
Water shortages are the biggest problem for agriculture around the globe.
In 2030, water supplies are forecast to be 39% short of demand.
Inexperienced growers have a strong tendency to use more water and fertilizer, and they let more wasted fertilizer flow into groundwater.
That water is a health hazard.
Cultivators with superior knowledge and experience can judge the right amount of water and fertilizer to use.
Doing this lets them control yields and quality. That’s where we focused.
We used IoT and AI to turn that knowhow into data so it could be used more widely.
This is digital farming.
It will take us from farming relying on experience and intuition, to sustainable farming optimized with data.
Meiji University Kurokawa Field Science Center
“Fertigation” is an agricultural technique created in Israel, which has a severe water shortage.
Instead of spraying a large amount of water with sprinklers or the like, fertigation uses narrow pipes to place drops of water and fertilizer at the roots of the growing crops.
We used IoT and AI to make an advancement in fertigation.
We collect data from soil and light sensors.
AI analyzes the data with the accumulated knowhow of skilled cultivators to determine the right amount of water and fertilizer.
We can minimize the amount required to keep the soil in proper condition.
With our technology, agricultural productivity throughout the region will drastically improve.
Implementing this simple digital farming method was inexpensive and highly efficient.
Routrek Networks, Inc.
President & CEO
Agriculture is changing in big ways thanks to IoT and AI. First, it will fix agriculture’s water shortages.
It will also help raise the value of farming.
We are already starting to get results in Japan, and the technologies are beginning to spread to Vietnam, China and elsewhere in Asia.
We need to keep improving agriculture for the sake of our children’s future.
I believe our technologies will help make agriculture sustainable for the next generations.