Farming 4.0 – A Revolution

Scientist estimates global population will rise from 7 billion to 9.7 billion people within the next 30 years. They also predict income increases for the average person, leading to a rise in food consumption that will increase the demand for produce by up to 50%.

Traditional farming methods cannot currently meet this increasing demand, as several factors impede the supply. Farming, as we know it, is at the whims of climate change. Traditional methods of farming and also limited by land and water use, and scarcity of energy and fertilizer. In the coming years, the climate will become more extreme, and resources such as fuel will become scarcer, and crops will be affected both in quantity and quality. The answer to maintaining the growing supply and demand over the coming years lies in innovative farming. We need innovative farming because it addresses many of the major problems facing the industry, namely being more resilient to climate change, using less water, land, and fuel, and producing enough food for growing global demand. So, what exactly is innovative farming?

Innovative farming is a blanket term used to cover advanced within the farming industry. Aquaponics, Rooftop farms, and Technologically/Scientifically Advanced Greenhouses are all new methods of farming all fall under the innovative farming umbrella[1].

Innovative farming is the best way to handle the looming food shortages and environmental impact of traditional agricultural techniques. It’s cost effective, an efficient use of space, and produces harvests that are of higher quality and quantity than traditional farming. Innovative agriculture also has less land restrictions than traditional farming. Urban environments can host rooftop farms, community plots, and small plots in backyards and balconies. Lastly, the environmental impact of innovative farming significantly less than traditional farming because it uses fewer resources and energy.

Innovative farming can help reduce the cost of agriculture, from the planting season all the way through the harvest. Companies like Katif believe in a future where the world partially relies on fresh, sustainable, and delicious vegetables and crops that are sourced locally. During a study, Katif found improved profits over traditional farming options. The key to driving cost down for companies is decreasing the cost of labor through automation with the use of rovers, smart grids, and integrated AI technology. Due to the partial use of sunlight, additional expenses in electricity are saved. (Shao, Heath, & Zhu, 2016).

Additionally, the automation and decreased labor time used in the smart grid continued to show a decrease in the cost of labor by 50%. Using AI, yield and quality will be optimized, passing on the maximum revenue to the farmer. Additionally, “long-term planning, simulation, and custom-tailored plans for different regions will be supported,” using Katif’s techniques.

A controlled environment like the ones in Katif’s greenhouses makes it easier to monitor diseases that could infect crops. Greenhouses allow for year-round farming, which means higher yields and more profits for innovative farming companies. It also benefits the consumer because it will erase the “out of season” produce that are often higher prices than when they are “in season.”

Objections to innovative farming could be that the use of automation is taking away jobs held by farmers and laborers. While automation is a concern for the agricultural labor market, AI is a factor that workers all across the globe in nearly every industry will have to contend with when the time comes.

Innovative farming techniques like the ones Katif proposes makes it easier to expand into urban environments. “Initially focusing on greenhouses, Katif will develop and provide a turnkey solution for urban, healthy, and economically sound farms that will be built near dense or remote population centres.”

Innovative farming uses less space by creating vertical farms as opposed to horizontal farms that have been the norm up to this point. Vertical farms need less land and are a better way to utilize resources. Katif’s vertical farming technique boasted a 30% higher yield in the harvest. This higher yield was the result of a higher density as rows for humans to walk through were not required. Vertical farming methods make it possible to create farms in environments like dense cities where previously it was impossible.

Because vertical farming is so effective at reducing the amount of land needed to grow a substantial harvest, it is cost efficient for more crowded urban centers where land is considerably more expensive. Rooftop farming provides insulation for buildings, capture precipitation, and make use of otherwise unused space in cities. Farming up, rather than out, eliminates horizontal rows between crops and makes the most out of the small areas that those who live in cities have available.

Other benefits of innovative farming in urban environments means better access to healthier foods for low-income communities that may not enjoy the convenience of nearby grocery stores. “Food deserts” in cities with poor or no public transportation, especially in the Midwestern U.S., makes it very difficult for families to have regular access to produce.

Vertical farms in urban centers help beautify communities and bring people together to work towards a common purpose, just as traditional farming did in the past for rural communities. For years there have been small community gardens. Innovative farming has the potential to build upon that concept and make it a more effective use of space with higher results.

Some may argue that if farms move closer to cities, they’ll use up even more valuable space in an area that is already very overpopulated. While it may be a more viable option for smaller cities, larger ones may not have the capacity for rooftop farms or even vertical gardens. However, as innovative farming technology continues to develop, new advancements for adapting these techniques in the big city will make it possible for these methods to stick.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly on a global level, is innovative farming’s reduced impact on the environment. Innovative farming is a more effective use of resources and energy because it benefits people on a global scale by reducing the agricultural industries’ carbon footprint. Traditional agriculture is more taxing on the land and resources.

Greenhouse farming requires zero fuel and oil use by farm machinery. Also, farmers were reliant on climate factors such as temperature and precipitation, and greenhouse technology takes away that reliance, so farmers can grow their crops in a controlled environment. Thus, higher yields at a lesser environmental and economic cost.

The initial investment and cost of innovative farming techniques is the biggest drawback to this method. Not only that but as AI and technology develop at faster rates, the rovers and other automated processes that companies like Katif have in mind may become obsolete or less cost-effective in the future when greenhouse technology possibly becomes more mainstream.

However, as it is, the world is facing a looming shortage in produce. Current farming methods are not sustainable because resources like oil are becoming scarcer. The changes in climate, such as colder temps in the winter, hotter temps in the summer, and either too much or too little precipitation, makes it more difficult to rely on traditional farming methods.

Irregular harvests and issues with crop diseases affecting quantity make access to produce more difficult for consumers. Multiple factors that affect traditional farming cause the prices of produce to be passed on to consumers.

[1] http://www.sustainabletable.org/251/innovative-agriculture#