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Innovations in Farming – Feeding the Future

Innovations in Farming – Feeding the Future

The worlds population is approximately 7.4 billion people. Nearly 800,000,000 people, over 10% of the world population, suffers from malnutrition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Though this number has decreased over the years, the large percentage of the reduction occurred in developed countries. As organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund work to improve social and economic development around the world, reaching the objective to end poverty leads to the need for more natural resources.

Nearly half the population of the world lives in cities, a number expected to grow to 80% by 2050. According to data provided by NASA, the land mass required to feed humans on this planet today is equal to that of South America; with our growing numbers, there is a need for innovations in the agriculture sector.

One approach to this problem is vertical farming, introduced by Columbia professor Dickson Despommier. There are grand visions of what this might look like in the future, but very practical operations out there today.


vertical-farming-future-vision
 

vertical farms of today
 

Plantagon is among those seeking to combine agriculture, technology, and architecture to develop greener, and more agriculturally sustainable cities.

Distributing agricultural production more locally within cities, while building up, has many benefits:

  • distribution and reduction of risk, in the event of disaster,
  • energy cost and carbon use reduction caused by transportation,
  • reduction of strain and deforestation in centralized areas,
  • year round crop production,
  • the ability to grow organically, without the need of herbicides and pesticides…

…not to mention secondary benefits, such as the potential to reduce conflict around resource rich areas.

Growing up is one option – growing off-shore is another. The concept of the floating farm not only reduces the issues associated with land use, but also provides a more sustainable approach to watering, a key factor in agricultural production.

floating farms future agriculture

 

Companies like Monsanto have worked toward increasing yields from farm production through both controversial and effective chemical and genetic methods. The economy of agriculture driven by technological capabilities and trends has positioned the mega-company as a data science organization.

IoT sensors farm intelligence

To collect data, the internet of things (IoT) reaches far beyond smart homes, cars, and wrist bands. Sensors in the field are critical to gathering information about the needs of farms at the plant level.

Just as IoT allows farmers (and agricultural engineers) to work remotely, making decisions more intelligently based on ground and potentially satellite data, there is also opportunity for farming automation. Robotics can allow for more efficient practices in all areas of agriculture, from soil conditioning, seeding, maintenance, and harvesting, on a continuous cycle.

Meet FarmBot…

FarmBot IoT remote farming

 


 

The many applications of robotics are limited to the imagination. BeeBots fly as tiny drones, assisting in pollination (as the name suggests), while Prospero, an Autonomous Micro Planter, has the ability to plant, prune, and communicate as a “swarm” in an effort to collaborate around farming activities.

bee bot robotic pollination innovative agriculture

With all the innovations being applied to farming on the ground, there are those looking toward other frontiers – farming in space. Generally thought of to feed populations that might begin to settle our moon, or even Mars, space farming is simply that – growing food in space. There are many challenges to this, all inherent to the conditions of space even under controlled environments. Lack of gravity, the need for artificial light, the need for alternative rooting materials (because soil is very expensive to transport into Space), and limited usable space (given that the area must be created or developed for agricultural use, and not simply converted from fertile land to fertile farmland). Another concern is the unknown – how could plants genetic code potentially be altered, or contaminated, and what impact could that have, either on the consumer, or on other plant species. All this, not to mention water, and nutrients found in soil.

space farming

 

 


Feature image courtesy of Bryan Versteeg – check out the projects on SpaceHabs.

Companies doing interesting things innovating agriculture and farming:

OnFarm – Integrated Information for the farming of tomorrow.

Aditi  (a Harman company) – Internet of Things driving change in agriculture.

 

James Watson