Meeting Food Demand with Modern Agriculture

Visiting the grocery store to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables is an uneventful — even bothersome part of our day. This is especially true for those of us in the United States where these items have long been plentiful. There are even times we treat ourselves to the “posh” variety of fresh, hand-picked organic plants from the local farmer’s market. Imagine for a moment if we didn’t have such a privilege. Sadly, many families throughout the world lack access to affordable and nutritious foods that are necessary for a safe and healthy lifestyle — in other words; they face food insecurity. The 2020 World Population Data Sheet indicated that the world’s population has been projected to increase from 7.8 billion in 2020 to 9.9 billion by 2050! World governments will need to improve the efficiency of farming and yield of crops to meet the consumption demand of the population. According to estimates compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global food demand will double in the next 30 years along with this expected population boom. If these predictions are true, then the agricultural sector will need to increase its production by more than 70% to satisfy the demand for better and richer food. [1]

Agriculture already places tremendous amounts of stress on the environment. These stressors will only become more critical as the world tries to meet the growing demand for food. Natural resources are finite and the planet already struggles to maintain the current demand. The environmental production pressures have grown dramatically over the years. Modern agricultural methods could be incorporated along with traditional practices to better meet the needs of the world’s growing population. They may prove to be the solution to the global pressures currently affecting food sustainability by utilizing limited resources more efficiently and increasing production output.

Modern farming technology is an evolving approach that incorporates agricultural innovations through engineering, science, and technology into current farming practices. This novel technology helps farmers increase production efficiency while reducing use of natural resources like water, land, and energy — all necessary to meet the world’s food, feed, fuel, and fiber needs. Modern agriculture is driven by continuous improvements and innovations, all of which utilize advanced technologies, digital tools, and research data for its advancement. Agricultural technology may be used for the different facets of production like the application of herbicide, pesticide, fertilizer, and improved seed cultivation. Over the years, technology has proven to be extremely useful for the agricultural sector. The following are examples of new technology in modern agriculture.

Precision Agriculture

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precision_agriculture#/media/File:Daedelus_comparison,_remote_sensing_in_precision_farming.jpg

Precision agriculture concentrates on providing the means for observing, assessing, and controlling agricultural practices. Precision agriculture uses large data, in conjunction with crop and environmental analytical tools, to help farmers make more informed decisions, such as which parts of the field need a specific treatment (e.g. fighting fungal diseases or determining how much fertilizer to apply). Precision farming, with the help of smart sensors, will essentially allow productivity in agriculture to increase by providing farmers with accurate information regarding both economic and environmental targets. [2,3,4]

Technology for Healthier Soils

Soil acts as the Earth’s fragile skin holding all life together. If the health and integrity of the soil are disrupted, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the health of all organisms on the planet will be affected. Without healthy soils, we wouldn’t be able to harness the richness for the growth of food. Thus, the environmental quality of food would be at risk and food security would be severely reduced. The degradation of farming soils has increased due to poor agricultural management, as well as industrial and urban processes [6]. Remote sensing (RS) technology is an application of technology used to determine qualitative and quantitative information of soil properties. RS is a rapid, cost-effective, and non-destructive way for the estimation of soil properties [5]. This information can be used to measure the health of farming soils, which could then be used to monitor the soil’s condition and allow for better soil management avoiding any further degradation. [6]

Digital Technology Tools

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Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery has made the management of farming operations, crops, and livestock simpler. UAVs have the potential for monitoring multiple agronomic and environmental variables such as real-time crop monitoring, weed detection, tree classification, water stress assessment, disease detection, yield estimation, and various pest and nutrient management strategies. [3] For example, the development of UAVs has greatly improved the potential for mapping invasive weeds. The weeds are mapped at their different phenological stages making it easier for the farmers to control unwanted infestations. This technology provides the farmers with an opportunity to know and meet the exact needs of the crops. [7]

Biotechnology and Genetic Manipulation

For centuries, farmers have tried to improve the available selections of fruits and vegetables offered to consumers by plant breeding. Plant breeding is the development of new varieties by selecting plants which exhibit desirable traits and allowing them to seed. Conventional breeding methods have been the main tool in achieving such selections of varieties. Unfortunately, achieving a selection of varieties that yield the desired character traits of most produce is a slow process and can take upwards of 10 to 15 years to introduce a new variety to the market. [8] Conventional plant breeding represents the principal approach to crop improvement. However, today’s crops are still a work-in-progress and not all improvements can be obtained by breeding alone [9]. The answer is genetic engineering.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plant_Tissue_Culture_Lab_-_Atlanta_Botanical_Garden.JPG

Genetic engineering is a much more precise way of improving crops. Improvements can be achieved in much shorter time frames — generally taking less than a year to transform an existing variety with one or several traits [9]. Research shows that, on average, genetically engineered technology has increased crop yields by 21%! These yield increases are not due to higher genetic yield potential but to more effective pest control practices which decrease crop damage. Furthermore, genetically engineered crops have reduced the required pesticide quantity for pest control by 37%. Inadvertently, these modified crops have reduced pesticide cost by 39% (and probably saved some bees to boot). Making an average profit gain for genetic engineering-adopting farmers of up to 69% [10]. Genetically engineered crops provide a promising avenue for yield increase, growth improvement, and future food supply security for a growing world population. [11]

CONCLUSION:

One could ask “why do we need modern agriculture when we have been making incredible achievements in our food supply simply by using conventional methods?” To answer that question, we must first realize that currently, nearly 690 million people around the world go hungry daily. In 2019, the United Nations estimated that approximately 750 million people — that’s almost 1 in 10 people — were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity. If nothing is done to improve the availability and current status of the natural resources available, then the number of people affected by hunger and food insecurity will surpass the 840 million mark by the year 2030! That’s nearly 10% of the world’s population. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that 95% of the world’s food is directly or indirectly produced on roughly 40% of the world’s available land. The available land used in agriculture has been continuously mishandled and is in peril of being irreversibly degraded for food production.

https://cropaia.com/blog/precision-agriculture-what-is-it/

Feeding the world’s population using only traditional methods is problematic. The global population continues to grow with no conceivable end in sight. Modern agricultural practices are essential in meeting the future food demand. Sustainable farming practices will be the most beneficial improvement for the future production of the world’s food supply.

Citations:

[1] Africa, S., & Asia, S. (2009). Global agriculture towards 2050 The challenge.

[2] Baggio, A. (n.d.). Wireless sensor networks in precision agriculture.

[3] Delavarpour, N., Koparan, C., Nowatzki, J., Bajwa, S., & Sun, X. (2021). A Technical Study on UAV Characteristics for Precision Agriculture Applications and Associated Practical Challenges, 1–25.

[4] Duhan, J. S., Kumar, R., Kumar, N., Kaur, P., & Nehra, K. (2017). Nanotechnology : The new perspective in precision agriculture, 15(May), 11–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.btre.2017.03.002

[5] Angelopoulou, T., Tziolas, N., Balafoutis, A., Zalidis, G., & Bochtis, D. (2019). Remote Sensing Techniques for Soil Organic Carbon Estimation : A Review, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs11060676

[6]Kibblewhite, M. G., Ritz, K., & Swift, M. J. (2008). Soil health in agricultural systems, (September 2007), 685–701. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2007.2178

[7]Castro, A. I. De. (2013). Assessing the accuracy of mosaics from unmanned aerial vehicle ( UAV ) imagery for precision agriculture purposes in wheat, (March 2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11119-013-9335-4

[8]Harlander, S. K. (2002). The Evolution of Modern Agriculture and Its Future with Biotechnology, 21(3), 161–165.

[9] Rommens, C. M., Haring, M. A., Swords, K., Davies, H. V, & Belknap, W. R. (2007). The intragenic approach as a new extension to traditional plant breeding, 12(9). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2007.08.001

[10] Qaim, M., & Klu, W. (2014). A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops, 9(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0111629

[11] Mittler, R., & Blumwald, E. (2010). Genetic Engineering for Modern Agriculture : Challenges and Perspectives. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-arplant-042809-112116

[12] Saghir, J. (2014). Global challenges in agriculture and the World Bank ’ s response in Africa, 61–68. https://doi.org/10.1002/fes3.43

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