Time to turn our food lives upside down with tech
Tending crops is almost imprinted in human DNA
Around 12 000 years ago we set down roots and started to grow barley, lentils and peas. Our nomadic lifestyles gave way to homes, farmsteads and fields. There have been considerable changes over the millennia but it’s only recently that conventional thinking has been literally and metaphorically turned on its head. Vertical farming proves that the future of agriculture will no longer require horizontal fields and a human husbandry in the historic sense.
This is not about a drive for change’s sake
We are experiencing a double pronged attack to how we live. Our UK climate is changing fast and the global population is demanding more food. We need solutions pretty rapidly, that fulfil demand while keeping an eye on the planet’s health. Although we tend to soak up negatives there is much to be excited about when it comes to tech and agriculture, honestly!
Tech does fresh!
We know that conventional agricultural practices use tremendous amounts of water and much is still slightly hit and miss that taking total control of the growing environment may well be the solution. Vertical farms do not even need fertile land and can be set up anywhere, in the heart of the city or in a desert. The food company, Ocado has seen the light and have plunged $200 million in developing a farming company that ends back breaking harvests. ‘Plenty’ is a vertical farming company and the aim is to have fresh herbs growing alongside their robotic warehouses.
Basil in Scunthorpe? You bet!
However, they are not going it alone. Their $200 million has bought a hefty 58% share in a vertical farm company called Jones Food. This company’s modus operandi is to grow popular herbs like parsley, coriander and parsley indoors, in stacks under LED lights. These plants don’t need rain, sun or anything else the UK weather can throw at fragile and faintly exotic seedlings. Actually, sunny Scunthorpe is the home of 7.5 miles of LED lights where tray upon tray is grown inside and sold to the outside world. You might think the electricity bill would be enough to burn up the planet but of course, renewable energy is part of their solution. They use solar panels and wind turbines to power the plant.
Take 100% control of the food we produce; leave nothing to chance
In addition, the new vertical farming can eliminate pesticide and also use recycled water. This is more than important as May 2020 was the warmest May on record. In parts of the country virtually no rain fell while the average was 17% lower than expected. It is suggested that traditional land in the south and east of the country may well prove too dry for arable in the future and that industry could well shift westwards. Therefore, to utilise technology and make the very best of what we have is not a bad shout. Computer scientists are definitely going to be part of many agricultural teams. Autonomous glasshouses are already here and so are 360-degree photographic records of plant growth that can see exactly how different seeds react to specific changes in growing conditions.
In fact, well-known tech companies are already heavily involved in horticulture
You will find Panasonic working on a tomato harvesting robot. In 2019 Bosch were funding a start-up called Deepfield Robotics that is perfecting a mechanised weeder that can actually distinguish between unwanted plants and crops. Microsoft has made use of its data expertise to help farms that experience poor internet connections while also focusing on machine learning algorithms. Even the European Space Agency has been turning its attention to terra firma, by producing high-resolution crop maps with a combination of data analytics and imagery.
The CV19 pandemic has and is changing what we do and how we do it
Traditional companies are looking to diversify; and so they should. Can we still bail out legacy solutions? Those with highly technical employees need to think beyond their original projections and company expectations. We have a new set of problems for sure, but in the UK, we have the intelligence and extraordinary ingenuity to problem solve. Yes, sometimes we have a scepticism and innate fear of some technologies, but the future will be built on them, through them and by them. Now’s the time to turn lives upside down for all the right reasons isn't it?
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