Sustainable agriculture: how technology is essential to feed the world

November 26, 2021

Sustainability is a key topic in agriculture. We see many great innovations to ensure we have access to affordable food of the highest quality.

The standpoint of the United Nations on agriculture leaves little room for interpretation: 

“Agriculture is at the heart of the solution of the sustainability issue, contributing from the environmental, economic, and social sides. If we improve agricultural and food systems, we can improve the livelihoods and health of people, and produce healthier ecosystems as well. The dominant agricultural model we inherited from the Green Revolution of the 1960s, with its emphasis on a narrow range of crops and its heavy use of chemicals, energy and capital, cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium”. 

This blog however, will not be a doomsday lecture about the environment, the importance of sustainability and the huge role agriculture plays in this. Instead of stating the obvious, we focus on some cool tech innovations in agriculture we found! Technology will be essential in feeding the 9.3 billion people on our earth in 2050. 

Electric everything
  • Zero emission farm equipment: the Tesla effect is coming to farming! Due to better and lighter batteries, electric vehicles will make their way to the farm. The torque of electric motors is very useful on farms, and the quick swapping possibilities of batteries allow longer running times. 
  • Energy storage: with many farmers generating electricity through several green options, storing this energy will be the next big thing. The cost of storage has decreased dramatically over the last 5 years and will continue to decrease in the future. 

  • Cattle: monitoring animal health is essential in sustainable and efficient food production. Technology can help in keeping track of animal health, as well as predicting and preventing illness. Connectivity is key, and with companies like Hiber, providing connectivity in areas where mobile data and GPS is not available, huge improvements are achieved in agriculture across the globe. Read a cool case study here.
  • Land: sensors can also help to monitor the state of the agricultural soil. Based on the data generated, farmers can learn how to treat their crops better. AI models can even make suggestions on which crops to plant to endorse biodiversity. Wageningen University shows crop yield grows by 10% while costs fall by the same percentage using data. And the use of water and fertilizer is reduced by 20-50%!

  • Autonomy: labor costs makes up for 20-50% of the price of food, depending on the crop. This is where robots can help. The internet is full of cool movies showing automatic spraying drones, autonomous tractors and spraying devices. They can even distinguish cultivated plants and weeds and treat them accordingly. 
  • Land management: AI can help in finding the harvesting sweet spot. By measuring numerous parameters such as weather, soil moisture, crop condition and even market prices the right moment for harvest can be calculated. 

  • Genetic breeding programs: They are still in their infancy, but the use of genetic selection capabilities can help reduce methane and co2 emissions at virtually no extra cost. New breeding technologies can mitigate the increase in greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the world’s growing demand for animal protein.
  • Crops: We can craft stronger crops, more resistant to certain insects and exterior influences by genetic modification. This will allow us to increase the yield of our land. In the UAE, they have done it the other way around by turning desert ground into fertile farmland using nanoclay: 

  • Longer shelf life/protection: Taking India as an example: 30-40% of the mangoes harvested never reach consumers. It takes too long to get them to their destination and there is a lack of a refrigerated supply chain (Rabobank). By adding a special liquid ( the freshness of fruits can be prolonged by 3 days to a full week! We don’t have to produce more food if we let less go to waste!
  • Waste prevention: According to the Guardian, approximately 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, and 20% of meat and dairy products are wasted by suppliers, retailers, and consumers every year. Artificial intelligence can help in predicting demand, resulting in better stock and purchasing decisions. Based on this data and the shelf life information, AI can suggest dynamic pricing points to make sure goods are sold and consumed instead of wasted.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The world understands the need for innovation and change in agriculture. The AgTech market will  have doubled in size in 2022 compared to 2017. And this is just the beginning. Digitization and sustainability are not just hobbies or nice to haves, but essential to keep up and stay alive. The agricultural world stands on the brink of a huge transformation and we all have tickets for the front row seats. 

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