The exponential growth of the human population has in recent years brought agriculture to the fore of our attention. This time, however, the focus isn’t exclusively on producing as much food as possible but rather on farming practices that are sustainable and profitable. We can no longer afford to pump food out of our farmlands, vineyards, greenhouses, and grow facilities without considering the impact of these industries upon the environment.
With renewed environmental respect becoming mainstream, more farmers are investing in technology that is helping them to farm more sustainably and more profitably, too. This technology ranges from field machinery, moisture sensors, and gadgets to a rather surprising suite of smart phone apps that are eliminating the middleman and returning the profit to the farmers. Let’s take a look at these various sustainable farming technologies.
“The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.”
Smartphone apps connecting producers with consumers
Rather than selling wares locally and encouraging a healthy local economy for agricultural produce, many farmers have been seduced into selling to international markets. This made food more expensive for locals (because they were competing with international prices) while also translating into an enormous carbon footprint.
Thankfully, recent years have seen a powerful push to support local food producers and to minimize the distance each head of cabbage or punnet of chicken eggs has to travel before reaching the consumer’s table.
One of the most successful ways this is making headway is through a suite of smartphone apps, such as FarmDrop, Food Assembly, and Farms2Tables. These apps enable users to conveniently place an order online for fresh, seasonal farm produce – fruits, vegetable, dairy, meats, etc. – and either have it delivered to their door or collected from a weekly “drop” location near them. Done this way (direct from farm to table) the distributors and various middlemen are eliminated from the transaction, returning the majority of the profits to the farmer’s pocket.
Other apps, such as Locavore and Farmstand are putting consumers in direct contact with local food producers and/or the necessary information they need to make smart, seasonal, and sustainable food choices.
Multispectral imaging helps a farmer monitor the real-time health and hydration of crops by measuring the wavelength spectrum emitted or reflected by that patch of ground. Unhealthy or dehydrated crops will emit a particular signature, which can subsequently be specifically remedied, rather than wasting a lot of water and nutrients on an entire field; or deploying pesticides/medications indiscriminately. This minimizes environmental impact and is certainly a more cost-effective approach for the farmer.
In-field water sensors
The large-scale deployment of in-field water sensors is useful for the real time monitoring of site-specific moisture and temperature characteristics. This, in turn, helps farmers decide upon an irrigation scheme that is best suited to the environment and the soils, ensures that crops are healthy, reduces evaporation, and minimizes water wastage.
Renewable energy for farming
Solar panels, wind turbines, and bio-fuels offer farmers a source of clean power that is minimally invasive and (mostly) carbon emission free. Moreover, the excess energy these technologies produce can be channelled back into the grid to power neighbouring communities. Also harvesting animal waste products such as cow and chicken manure can be used as fertilizers, which can help cut back on costs and minimize the unnecessary use of chemicals.
Adopting a cross-disciplinary approach to farming
Farmers are increasingly adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to agriculture, giving careful consideration to all aspects of the land, the environment, and the community and not just pumping out as much produce as possible. Achieving this mindfulness has largely been facilitated and made possible through the advent of new technologies – such as those we have discussed – that enable farmers to get their work done more efficiently and with less demand on the environment.
Today, farming can be done profitably and sustainably through a plethora of technologies that blend a sophisticated understanding of biology, engineering, chemistry, economics, community, and more to help us work towards a more environmentally conscious and sustainable future.