Food Engineering : Human beings have been battling starvation for thousands of years. Even in today’s advanced economies, stories of people dying from starvation make their way to the headlines. Just a few weeks ago, a child and her mother were found starved to death in their apartment in Seoul. In the wealthiest country in the world, the United States, 1 out of 8 Americans were food insecure according to the USDA.
Humans must and will continually endeavour to create food crops at ever more efficient methods. Since 1961 the average land needed for crop production has decreased by 68% due to efficiencies in farming. Less land needed to farm on creates more availability all over the world.
Rocky and mountainous regions that don’t have the long flat acreage of the US heartland are able to produce in ways unimaginable 100 years ago. In Europe, mountainous farming represents 18% of all output while only utilizing 15% of farmable land and Brazil’s Rio De Janeiro state acquires 90% of its produce from mountainous farms.
Companies like Aerofarms are working on indoor growing facilities that can exist in any climate around the world. They are able to produce 1.7m pounds of food from their 70k square foot facility in Newark. The vertical farms can produce far more agriculture per square foot and can exist in snowy and harsh environments.
The process also uses much less water than conventional farming, with water being recycled throughout the facility. The indoor operation also allows the production of produce without the need for pesticides. However the energy needs of these operations require a significant power source nearby.
Chile’s desert-like lands inspired scientific research to develop plants that could withstand droughts. At Chile’s University of Talca’s Genetics Laboratory, researchers have been able to make a corn crop grow for 53 days without water. The genetically modified crops were created with a strain of tomatoes.
The tomato can go very long without water, so by using the genetics of the tomato on the corn researchers were able to make this breakthrough discovery. The tomato seeds selected grow 3000 feet above sea level in the Atacama desert. These tomatoes are accustomed to receiving water only in the Bolivian winter, while still being able to produce seeds all year long.
Precision farming has accelerated crop yields from smaller and smaller portions of land. Precision farmers use drones to water the plants, reducing water overlap from 13% to 1%. The fertilization process is much quicker and precise when done through a pre-programmed drone.
With so many rows of plants, field workers often get confused and will fertilize the same area multiple times. With pre-programmed drones, that error is solved.
Lastly, when it comes to picking the crops, there have been a number of startups that have created automated pickers to replace the need for humans.
Blue River Technologies uses Machine Learning to automate the spraying and picking of plants, in fact this Silicon Valley startup was just acquired by the farming behemoth John Deere. The oldest names in farming are embracing the most technologically savvy methods to stay ahead of the curve.