It is estimated that 570 million farms in the world and, in a neat twist of number synergy, funding rounds in technological innovations along the agriculture and food value chain. Much of the investment is directed at agrotech startups and disruptive market newcomers, in many ways priorities remain the same as ever, innovation in resource use, especially in terms of water and land, to boost efficiency and yields.
Here are five solutions that are helping to support the global growth of sustainable agriculture and food production:
1. Lettuce with microchips
Annual soil-based production capacity at the initial Panasonic facility launched last year was 3.6 tons, but the company is by no means the only high-tech brand setting up urban and vertical farms, to showcase technology rather than make a profit.
Sharp is growing strawberries in Dubai, while Sony, Toshiba, and Fujitsu are all utilizing former clean-room facilities at semiconductor plants across Japan for lettuce. These no-wash, no-soil greens are cultivated by means of hydroponics and grown at more than twice the speed of normal field production, thanks to specialized LED lighting to optimize photosynthesis.
2. Use of no saline
Water efficiency in food production represents a key metric in the face of global population growth and climate change.
The scarcity of water resources and that 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, therefore make a compelling argument for desalination. Historically, it has been energy-hungry nature and prohibitively high running costs relative to agricultural profit margins.
The solution offered by Sundrop Farms offers one of the few renewable resources in even more abundant supply than seawater – sunlight. Sundrop Farms harvests solar power which generates energy for desalination to supply hydroponic greenhouses.
3. Digital soil mapping
For farming models, the primary determinant of supply capacity is the availability and suitability of land. However, any idea of future potential must be built on current data, with what data there is then mapped to tell the story of a region. This is effectively written in the dirt, the soil.
Digital soil mapping, especially in data-sparse regions such as Africa, is key to planning sustainable agricultural intensification and natural resources management. With open access, these interactive maps are publicly available to be explored on Google Earth.
Drones have mostly been associated with the military and spying, it has been the new technique for farming. The Munich-based Quantum-Systems entry was a transition aircraft combining capabilities of a multi-copter and fixed-wing model – vertical take-off, plus fast forward flight like a normal plane. Quantum VRT design allows farmers to make precise fertilization strategies by using flight-planning software with evaluation of crop conditions, so reducing reliance on fertilizers and boosting yields.
Dubai plans to scale up agriculture drone technology usage in a bid to become self-sufficient in food security by 2030. With 98 percent of imports, the emirate currently outstrips Singapore.
5. Green fed on waste
Hydroponics is a growing method which is based on the use of mineral-enriched water, whereas aquaponics takes matters a step further, bringing plant and fish farming in one system.
Bio aqua Farm, the largest integrated aquaponic farm in Europe, vegetables are grown and Rainbow Trout reared together in organic symbiosis, without chemicals or pesticides, but with the help of bees and worms.
The fish provides most of the plant nutrition, by way of aquaculture effluent. In turn, fish waste metabolites are removed by nitrification and direct uptake by plants, with the suitably treated water then flowing back to the fish. In all, it is claimed this virtuous circle of reciprocity requires up to 95 percent less water than traditional horticulture farming.
For sustainable food production and agriculture, the aquaponics ecosystem principles also appear attractively scalable, from back gardens to commercial facilities.