The challenge of growing enough food to feed the planet is not a problem that belongs to just one country. Food comes from all around the world to sit on our tables, and we in return ship our food products to far off countries. Take a look at some of the things scientists are doing to make sure that we’ll all have enough to eat in the upcoming decades, and some of the newest and innovative technology:
1. Turn Deserts to Farmland
As Charlie Paton was flying to Morocco, he couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the desert and ocean. Nearly 70% of the world’s freshwater is used for agricultural purposes, meanwhile here was this vast dry land sitting next to water too salty to use. So Paton designed the Seawater Greenhouse, which uses simple evaporation to turn salt water to fresh while at the same time providing a place for growing just about any type of crop. It’s an ingenious solution to two problems – finding enough fresh water and creating growth in the desert.
2. Precision Agriculture
American farmers use anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds of fertilizer per acre. But new “soil sensors” that continuously monitor soil conditions like water and temperature, are allowing farmers to make huge cuts in the amount of resources used by letting them know exactly when and how much fertilizer is needed. Similar systems have been used in the past, but they required antennas that often got knocked over. The new sensors are buried 12 inches underground and transmit data via radio waves. By using the sensors, farmers can expect to save around $120 per acre each growing season.
3. Build a Better Rice
Rice is a staple crop that feeds nearly half the world’s population. One of the problems though, is getting rice to the people who need it. John Sheehy from the Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is working to make rice grow faster by altering its photosynthesis – the way it grows using the energy from the sun. The goal is to increase rice production by as much as 50% annually. And once they crack the code with rice, they can use the same process to increase yields from other plants.
4. Find a Better Fertilizer
It’s suggested that 1.2% of all greenhouse gasses come from the chemical fertilizer production. The last 30 years have seen tremendous growth in the amount of fertilizer farmer’s use, and that growth is expected to continue, unless scientists at Michigan State University get their way. They are developing a mix of microbes that actually provide the nutrients plants need as well as provide protection against pathogens. As an added benefit, the microbes only need to be applied once, unlike fertilizers that must be applied each year.
5. Update The Maps
The last 40 years have seen relatively little improvement in crop yields throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In order to help increase food yields to a point where farmers can provide sustenance for the local population, companies like HarvestChoice are gathering massive amounts of data on land use so that better farming techniques can be developed. By gaining a better understanding of all the variables that affect farming, better decisions can be made for land use.
6. Hire a Robot
Many types of produce depend on having people in the field for harvest. However, tougher immigration laws have helped to shrink the labor pool. Farmers are having such a hard time finding workers that millions of dollars of labor intensive fruit like apples and grapes have rotted in the fields. Researchers around the world are working to develop mechanized workers – robots – that can do everything from monitoring crops to pruning to actual harvest. While there are robots at use already for monitoring and applying fertilizer or water, robots that do the delicate work of harvest are still cost prohibitive and slow. In the meantime, machines are available that allow smaller numbers of workers to accomplish great amounts of work.
7. Bring the Soil
Back to Life Across the globe, man has been killing the soil. It’s estimated that as much as 25% of arable lands have been degraded by over-farming or deforestation. But by adding biochar – a type of charcoal – the lands can be made available for farming again. Not only does it make farming more sustainable, it locks carbon into the soil rather than letting it escape into the air.
8. Create a Super Food
One third of the people in Africa suffer from malnutrition. Cassava root is easy to grow and inexpensive. Unfortunately, it’s low in iron and other important vitamins. So, scientists are working to develop a cassava that is more nutritious and slower to rot, in hopes of being able to provide cheap nutrition across the continent.
Rob is an engineering technician working for root crop processing specialists RJ Herbert Engineering. He loves new methods of increasing crop production and the use of technology in farming, and is a keen blogger.