To Boldly Grow: Innovations With Promise for Sustainable Agriculture
With the global population on the rise, food security is more critical than ever before. Climate change has become a more pressing concern, and a growing number of people are interested in sourcing sustainable food.
Fortunately, with recent advances in tech, new tools are being developed to meet those demands. To boldly grow, the world needs to implement these new innovations with the ultimate goal of cleaner, greener agriculture.
Here are a few promising examples to watch for.
Less and less arable land is available for farming. In less than 20 years, 11 million acres of farmland in America was converted to land for urban development. However, just like skyscrapers can always build upwards, so can farms. The technique of vertically growing crops has increased in popularity as a way to encourage sustainable agriculture.
Vertical farming allows crops to grow in vertical spaces. It can produce more crops with less space. Plus, it will enable urban areas to access fresh produce that would otherwise have to import from rural regions and horizontal farms. Additionally, vertical farms can opt for a closed-in, climate-controlled environment, allowing for year-round crop production.
A newer farming development is putting an end to the ongoing battle between farmers and birds. Pest birds like crows, starlings, and blackbirds can wreak havoc on crops. Older pest management would have included chemicals and pesticides to eliminate pests, which isn’t sustainable or environmentally friendly.
Thanks to a research team from the University of Rhode Island, an innovation known as the laser scarecrow can deter birds. The scarecrow uses green laser lighting that isn’t visible to humans during the day. It startles the birds to keep them away from crops. It could possibly prevent a majority of crop losses.
Automated Farming Equipment
Farm equipment has come a long way since the inventions of the shovel and rake. Now, many large-scale agricultural operations utilize automated farming equipment. This solves the problem of labor shortages and allows farmers to work on more meaningful tasks rather than sitting in a tractor all day.
Automated farming equipment works continuously, performing all of the manual labor necessary to run a farm. Farmers can use that time to strategize how they can make their farms more efficient and sustainable. This equipment can be site-specific, limiting the number of pesticides and fertilizers used. Additionally, it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the equipment can give alerts regarding fuel usage and upcoming maintenance.
Sustainable Seafood Harvesting
Agriculture encompasses more than just those who grow fruits, vegetables, and grains. It also involves proteins, including those that come from the ocean. Sustainably sourced seafood is necessary to feed the population, and it’s essential to ensure there’s sufficient seafood available for years to come.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 3 billion people depend on seafood as part of their primary diet. Local fisheries are learning sustainable harvesting techniques, like only keeping seafood that meets length and weight requirements. Additionally, some fisheries have integrated aquaponics, which allows for a closed-loop system to grow plants and fish within the same system.
Irrigation Control Systems
Agriculture uses copious amounts of water. Even with water conservation efforts, the agricultural industry in the United States accounts for about 80% of the nation’s water consumption. Irrigation systems are necessary to produce food. Without water, plants cannot grow. However, to promote sustainability in agriculture, farms need to be implementing innovations to conserve water.
With monitoring systems and irrigation control, farmers can be more precise with how much water their crops need. Instead of soaking the ground every day, sensors can tell the irrigation system just how much water each plant needs. Additionally, innovators developed an app called Irrigator Pro so farmers can schedule watering times for their crops and learn how to conserve water.
Drones for Crop Monitoring
Drones have proven to be an effective tool for sustainable agriculture. Farmers once used them for chemical spraying, but now they’re used for their sensors and cameras. Drones can continually take images and monitor crops, providing valuable information to farmers to make improvements in sustainability efforts on their farms.
Another benefit of drones is that they can provide landscape imaging. They can consider factors like slope and elevation to find the best regions for seeding and crop production. Drones can also capture high-resolution images so agricultural professionals can more precisely add fertilizers and water and reduce overall waste. Moreover, drones could potentially offer insight into weather conditions, allowing farmers to execute better planning for the day.
The ongoing problem with livestock farming is that it generates greenhouse gases and results in the degradation of land. However, the livestock industry must continue to produce protein sources for the population. Fortunately, innovations within the livestock industry have paved the way for sustainable agriculture.
Monitors in agriculture can do more than provide information on irrigation and crop production. Precision livestock monitors enable ranchers to keep track of the health and well-being of their animals. Technology keeps them updated on health concerns, and GPS systems allow ranchers to move their herds between fields to enable them to regenerate.
One of the ways to promote sustainability in agriculture is to find ways to control disease without using chemicals or pesticides. Bee vectoring allows farmers to protect their crops from various diseases. It uses a fungus called Vectorite to drive away any disease that could potentially cause significant harm to plants.
The solution of Vectorite is placed in a hive of commercially raised bees. As the bees go in and out of the hive, they take some of the solution. Then, as the bees travel from plant to plant, they drop some Vectorite onto the crops. All of this is done without chemicals, posing zero harm to the environment, and it prolongs the shelf life of produce.
Apps to Reduce Food Waste
A significant problem in the agricultural industry is that so much food goes to waste. Farms generate enough produce and protein to feed the growing population, yet about one-third of the food produced ends up in landfills. Much of this food waste is still good food thrown away because of imperfections when it could go to the people who need it most.
Fortunately, innovations have been connecting farmers to those in need of food. One of those is Too Good to Go, which allows restaurants and shops to purchase surplus food at discounted rates. Other similar apps are available worldwide, which contribute to sustainable agriculture.
Integration of Renewable Energy Sources on Farms
Finally, integrating renewable energy on farms has been an excellent example of innovation with promise for sustainable agriculture. More and more farmers are installing renewable energy systems on their farms.
Agrivoltaics combines solar energy with farming. Farmers can install solar panels directly above their crops. This provides the farm with renewable energy, and they can continue to produce vegetation. Also, it conserves water by retaining moisture. Some farmers have even used agrivoltaics to boost beneficial insects for pollination and allow for a shaded place for livestock to cool down during the day.
The Future of Sustainable Agriculture
In the coming years, there will be more of a focus on drone technology and ways to conserve resources. These technologies are paving the way for sustainable agriculture, and as more farmers adopt these methods, generations ahead can be more secure in their food supplies.
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