The Future of Farming – Food, Harnessing Fresh Ideas & Tech

Earth has a LOT of people on it – and we are consuming the resources that the Planet can provide each year at an ever increasing rate.  Maybe you have heard of “Earth Overshoot Day?” – This year it was August 13th.  Last year it was August 19.

E-overshoot day
Representation of our Relative Footprint increase over time

This marks the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We will be operating in overshoot.

Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network measures humanity’s demand for and supply of natural resources and ecological services. And the data is sobering. Global Footprint Network estimates that approximately every eight months, we demand more renewable resources and C02 sequestration than what the planet can provide for an entire year.

So what are we dong about it?

– Quite a bit actually, and there’s some big pushes in technology that are giving us a helping hand.

drone farm
Crop Management – Drone Style

There’s a reason not a lot of us a farmers.  It’s difficult, physical work that can require an extraordinary amount of knowledge of the local land conditions, climate statistics and inherent requirements of whatever you’re trying to produce.  I honestly take my hat off to those amazing people.  Well this process has begun to get more streamlined for them with the integration of mobile technology, drones and automated data analysis.  Today – farms are GPS mapped and computer modelled.  A lot of the tractors and vehicles can be driven from a central hub (without human intervention).  Managers can measure things like soil acidity and nitrogen levels from drones – having alerts sent to I-phones – and apply required fixes, all remotely.  This allows for a much greater level of optimisation in the whole production process, saving time, effort, dollars and producing a greater yield of product.  It’s been so successful in the U.S for example that farmers are sharing analytical results online through “Farmhack.org”.  With affordable sensors, drones, cameras and wireless technology the process of farming is becoming a more manageable machine.

Check it out:

Farmhack

Adaptive Production:

Each year we keep hearing about the over-farming of a natural fishery deposits.  Super-trawlers dragging nets that leave nothing behind.  Well what if fishing in oceans was….moved….seriously.  There is a lot of empty space on our continents, deserts, barren landscapes that might be transformed into pseudo oceans.  Turns out – plenty of other people are having the same thought and are making money out of it to boot.  With reference to an article I recently read in Popular Science October 2015, there is a family in land-locked Indiana, U.S – who run a shrimp-farm.  Now their farm, called “RDM Aquaculture” is capable of producing 250,000 shrimp a month. A month! In the great scheme of seafood consumption (Americans eat 2 Billion Kilograms of seafood annually), this is a drop in the in-land ocean, but it’s a good start!

inland sea
Inland Aquatic Farm

Their farm is an entirely “closed-loop” system – meaning that no external factors are required to be brought in for the process to complete.  The shrimp are raised in recirculating plastic tanks that utilise bacteria to remove the waste products.  The whole system is quite clever in that it doesn’t require an absurd amount of technology or gadgetry to function.

Current statistics indicate that we need to produce an additional 40 Million Tonnes of “Farmed” Seafood over the next 15 years to remove the pressure from our natural resource stocks.  With ideas being brought to life like the in-land shrimp farm – this is now entirely achievable.

Grow it How you Want it

The final point I’d like to touch on is the ability to grow our own food inside small (inside a room) eco-environs.  MIT has been working on a program called the Open Agricultre Initiniative and they’re all about tweaking the way foods are grown and sharing their results.  Recently, there has been a massive spike in companies utilising specific growth patterns – specific light frequency exposures, nutritional compounds and CO2 levels – to create the best tasting, fastest grown food products.  Now, understandably, these companies are not inclined to share their research and trade-secrets, but the MIT team have seen the need for these strategies to be shared on a global level in what they call the “Wikipedia of Farming”.  They’ve developed their own product called the Personal Food Computer.

The Personal Food Computer
The Personal Food Computer

Its a 600mm x 600mm cube with micro-sensors, LED lighting and irrigation system that can adapt all the previously mentioned parameters to be used to grow pretty much whatever you want.  This technology is definitely in it’s infancy and not up to solving the world’s food issues YET, but it’s a huge step in the right direction with each household being able to help support its food requirements and contribute to a global network of understood research into growth techniques.

With all this work occurring – it gives heart that we as a species are noticing that we are having a dire impact on our world.  Our world is not infinite – it looks after us and we need to begin to return that favour.  We CAN achieve this with our collective efforts.  We CAN continue to prosper and push the boundaries of understanding and learning at the same time.  It is definitely within the realms of Possibility – and that is incredibly exciting.

Pete.

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