Smart Food? Technology and Industrial Farming

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agriculture in the United States currently produces approximately $300 billion a year in commodities, with livestock accounting for roughly half that value. With the world population set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, this figure only grow. Modern technology will be needed to not only help produce additional commodities to feed this additional populace, but also to protect the environment from rapid degradation as a result of increased industrialized farming and ranching. The following technologies demonstrate how this can be potentially achieved in a sustainable manner.

GMOs
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have long been a controversial topic. In 1994, the first genetically modified vegetable, a tomato known as the Flavr Savr, was approved by the FDA for human consumption. GMOs are genetically engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to pests or herbicides or increased nutritional value. Since the advent of the Flavr Savr plant, more than 93% of today’s corn and soy products in the United States are genetically modified. According to another statistic, roughly 60 to 70 percent of today’s processed foods also contain GMOs. The arguments for and against GMOs are spirited and multifaceted. Proponents argue that GMOs are safe for consumption and will be necessary if we wish to feed a growing population and increase food availability to the very poorest areas of the world. Opponents of GMOs contend food products containing them may not be safe for long-term human consumption. They also argue GMOs pose additional risk to the environment. This is because cross-pollination can create herbicide-resistant superweeds that threaten other crops and wild plants. Whatever the case may be, GMOs will likely be big business in the biotechnology industry.

Drones
Drones support a wide range of agricultural services. One example is a rapid visual overview of a food production site. The sharp and detailed images and videos that a drone provides can help farmers determine how to properly allocate resources, reduce waste, and improve food production standards. Due to their non-invasive nature, drones are also an excellent tool in the visual inspection of pipe systems, confined spaces, and large silos. Small-scale drones can quickly and efficiently inspect large systems to determine if there is a compromise, such as faulty welding or leaks.

Another potential use for drones in the farming industry is the application of chemicals. Growers can use data and analytics to determine which areas need treatment. This type of precision could ultimately save resources and prevent overapplication of chemical products. Although it may sound comedic, drones also have the capability to play cowboy. Drones can help ranchers count cattle and other livestock, apply insecticides, and even disrupt pests affecting their herds.

IoT
The Internet of Things is most commonly defined as the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data over the Internet. In the food industry, smart sensors may be the key in not only producing larger quantities of food but also making food transportation safer and more expedient. For example, growers can use real-time temperature-tracking sensors to allow them to closely monitor food safety data points and ensure effective cold-chain management. This prevents food from rotting, which eliminates waste and saves money. By some estimates, global food loss is somewhere around 1.3 billion tons every year.

Another potential application of IoT devices exists in transparency along the food chain. Transparency can lead to an increased level of trust among consumers, improved inventory management, and faster lead times.

IoT
The Internet of Things is most commonly defined as the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data over the Internet. In the food industry, smart sensors may be the key in not only producing larger quantities of food but also making food transportation safer and more expedient. For example, growers can use real-time temperature-tracking sensors to allow them to closely monitor food safety data points and ensure effective cold-chain management. This prevents food from rotting, which eliminates waste and saves money. By some estimates, global food loss is somewhere around 1.3 billion tons every year.

Another potential application of IoT devices exists in transparency along the food chain. Transparency can lead to an increased level of trust among consumers, improved inventory management, and faster lead times.

Smart farming and farm locations
One of the most innovative developments in the farming industry is smart farming or eco-friendly locational farming. As fertile farmland continues to become less available, humans have to find creative solutions for how and where we grow our food. Several cities, including London, have undertaken initiatives to convert abandoned warehouses, subway stations, and empty plots of land into community gardens and farms. As a result, hydroponic technology has become more popular, as food can be grown without soil by using nutrient-rich water solutions.

If we are to keep pace with the continued increase in food demand, technology will have to provide assistance in how we allocate resources and safely produce food.

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