We may not see farms moving fully indoors or meat being grown in labs right away, but If one thing is for sure, it’s how food will have to change and adapt to meet the future demands of consumers. Covid-19, along with its many drawbacks, has exposed some problems within the processes of food and agtech that need to be addressed.
From the shift in consumer needs and preferences to the change and introduction of new technologies, food and agriculture are changing for good. McKinsey and Company has identified four trends that are likely to shift the direction of our food industry. They mention how diets and eating habits will change due to increased demand of protein-rich foods and alternative proteins. With the concern of food safety and contamination and changing climates, there will be a shift in where we get our food.
What Covid-19 has shown us about the current system
There is a disconnect between growers and consumers. Packers and processors are over-centralized, causing concern for future consumers. This has led to the following:
- Farmers losing billions because they couldn’t find a way to pivot when the market for their current crops was lost or changed.
- Consumers seeing empty store shelves.
- Wholesale and retail supply chains are out of balance.
- Produce quality has decreased and prices have increased.
- Acute grower shortage has become even more apparent.
- Grower tools are, at best, rudimentary.
Poor distribution has led to poor nutrition for some, pollution of earth and water, as well as human wildlife conflict.
Agriculture technology trends changing the farming industry
With the population nearly doubling by 2050 and the need for new technologies to create more efficient and safe farming practices, it will be important for food producers to be open to new advancements. Adopting digital tools like AI, drones. Genomics, and other mechanical advancements will allow producers to maximise production and resources.
What are some of these new technologies?
On foot, it takes farmers an unnecessary amount of time to survey their land. Equipped with ultra-high resolution or multispectral cameras stabilized by pods for maximum image quality, drones can offer extremely valuable information in a more efficient and accurate way than humans sometimes can. Drones are able to see more than the naked eye.
GPS-Enabled Precision Agriculture
Sensors and actuators in self-guided tractors are generating data that will help farmers plant their crops in optimal locations on their land. This will help them make smarter decisions on the use of their resources. This could lead to less pesticide usage and smarter water use.
These robots can perform tasks such as harvesting, picking, sorting, and weed control. Robots can pick at much faster rates than humans. This will allow people to take on more important jobs at farms while the robots are increasing the output and income opportunities of farms.
The shift in agriculture
Dave Vosberg, CFO and head of emerging technologies at Sensai Ag mentioned six key areas to consider when looking at how agriculture and farming is shifting towards the future. He mentioned the rise of predictive agriculture, next-generation proteins, change in consumer sentiment, sustainable packaging, breeding and seeds, and novel farming techniques.
Using gut instincts has gotten growers far, but now technology can help them go even further. This will allow for labor efficiency. More data allows farmers to spend time making decisions and acting on challenges rather than walking the fields or green houses. This will also help reduce waste. When pests, nutrient deficiencies, or other plant health challenges can be identified early, revenue increases. And of course, with improved efficiency and lower waste comes higher profit margins.
New plants are being identified, such as lemna or duckweed, that may have higher protein content than soy or chickpeas to address plant based proteins. The use of bioreactors has also become more popular. Bioreactors are defined as anything that can grow organisms under controlled conditions. As people look for more efficient ways to consume protein, they are slowly turning to insect proteins.
Change in Consumer Sentiment
The previous food system has been centered around efficiency and cost rather than nutrition and health. Our society has been addicted to cheap and unhealthy calories, but this is quickly changing. People want both the freshness, the locality, and the efficiency, but they also want to know that it is nutritious and chemical-free. The list of requirements is getting longer so producers should learn and make a plan to pivot to new and changing consumer wants.
Part of the requirement for change is sustainable packaging. Being creative can cut down costs while saving the environment. This will make consumers more willing to buy products if they know they are also giving back.
Breeding and Seeds
Seeds bring amazing value and are the software of plant science. Seeds can dictate how plants will manifest the end product. Computational breeding uses AI and machine learning to decipher huge amounts of data to help determine life cycle and ideal cross breeding of seeds. Creating unique seeds and cultivars will be one of the cornerstones of a lasting nutritional revolution.
As the world is challenged by water use, unsustainable energy usage, and unhealthy chemicals, novel farming will continue to grow. Novel farming includes moving indoors and looking for new ways of farming that can better protect crops without using harmful materials. As advancements come closer to creating a closed-loop system, producers will be able to adapt to their plants’ needs. By seeing what the plant is doing, changing the environment in order for the plants to excel in their growth, and knowing what they need to thrive, producers will be more efficient and create higher output.
Agtech and Food Startups Paving the Way
ReEnvision Ag: The ReEnvision Ag Planter system allows farmers to be the best stewards of the environment by reducing tillage and allowing the soil to be healthier. The soil is our biggest asset and protecting it is one of our main priorities. We don’t want it to erode or degrade. Adapting farming practices in a way that reduces the use of fossil fuels and the amount of water that is polluted, will allow for reduced cost in machinery and fuel.
Monarch: Monarch has created a 100% electric compact tractor - the first of its kind. Monarch delivers robust performance while producing zero tailpipe emissions. The tractor combines powerful tools, automated operations, driver optional modes, and data analytics with strength and power only possible with an all-electric platform. Featuring mechanization, automation, and data analysis puts power back in farmers’ hands while increasing labor productivity and maximising yields.
Small Robot Company: Small Robot Company is reimagining farming with artificial intelligence and robotics. With a total of three robots, Tom, Dick, and Harry will plant, weed, monitor, and treat crops autonomously. This will allow farmers to be more efficient, precise, and productive while also being kinder to soil and the environment.
Tevel: Farmers are losing billions each year due to crops not being picked in time or having to sell at lower prices because of old products. Tevel has created flying autonomous robots that pick fruits and vegetables at extremely fast speeds. Their technology tells the robots whether or not the food is ripe. These robots work day and night producing more than any human could. These robots don’t require as many people nor do they require housing, visas, food, or health insurance.
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