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Guest Post: The future of food production?

20 September 2018

The world is moving forward in a multitude of ways, and scientific advancement is at the forefront of our progression. The way we see and interact with the world is changing. One hugely significant way our world is changing is in food production.

Creating sustainable methods of food production, producing more food, and making it healthier all at the same time is no easy effort. This guest post and video from Innovate UK’s Predictions team looks at the future of food production.

The Need for Better Food Production

The world’s population is set to hit 10 billion people by the year 2050. Seeing the world through that lens, sustainable and efficient food production becomes a necessity.

New technologies will be put in place to ensure better crop quality, animal welfare and environmental care. For example, implementing GPS systems into tractors and planning the routes beforehand will allow for more efficient crop yielding.

This particular example has been executed before, using purely autonomous vehicles and drones – the experiment showcased an entire crop growing from start to finish without a single person entering the field, returning an impressive yield of 4.5 tonnes of spring barley.

These new technologies will replace manual harvesting and improve the overall efficiency of crop yielding in the UK. The next step is figuring out how we can grow enough food for the world’s ever-increasing population.

Vertical Farming

The solution is a process known as ‘vertical farming’. The process involves growing crops in a controlled environment, where all the conditions are tuned to the exact level of requirement. By monitoring these crops, we can measure their condition and find out when they’ll be in their peak condition, at which point we’ll harvest them.

Keeping crops in a controlled environment has a multitude of advantages over traditional farming. LED lighting can keep some plants growing 24/7, and can also allow for food production in non-traditional environments, such as a city.

This is achievable through hydroponic growing techniques, which involves cultivating crops in nutrient supplemented water as opposed to soil. Far less water is used and the water itself can be recycled multiple times. The entire process is not only efficient, but also accounts for the growing population while keeping the food affordable.

What About Livestock?

The advancement in food production isn’t squarely aimed towards crop yielding. Technology working to optimise cattle diet, monitor fertility, and monitor calving activity is already being utilised by livestock farmers. The technology works remotely, so the farmers don’t need to be physically present to check the animals. The benefits to this methodology are highly significant – mortality rates during calving can be reduced by up to 80%, and the animals are left healthier in general.

Also significant is the shift to alternative protein sources. This is a trend occurring mainly in Europe and North America, and while plant-based proteins are in demand, the traditional meat-eater needs to be accounted for. We need to produce alternative protein sources that possess similar eating qualities as meat, in order to satisfy the more traditional meat eaters.

Watch the full video from Innovate UK

Tiny Sources of Protein

Not all meat eaters are ready for plant-based protein sources, but there are other alternatives. Insects are a highly sustainable food source and ideal for protein (some holding as much as 80%). They can be grown in small spaces, and are easier (and more environmentally friendly) to cultivate. However, while roughly a quarter of the Earth’s population regularly eat insects, many wouldn’t find it palatable, even if used only as animal or fish feed.

The advantages to pushing forward with the insect initiative (while hoping people warm to the idea as it becomes more normalised) are many, not only for the consumers but also for people living in developing countries.

Better Farming Worldwide

Overall, the technological advancements in the way we farm and produce our food will create better farming conditions everywhere. Remote technology allows for higher standards of maintenance and efficiency, without any physical human interference, while controlled farming environments allow crop yields to extend their lifespan and be cultivated in areas not typically optimised for farming.

Not only will the conditions improve, but access to resources will open up to places where food supplies are usually restricted. The production will be efficient, the end product will be affordable, and most importantly, the food itself will be far healthier and more beneficial to our overall health.

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