The future of food: How technology is changing the way we grow
To the average person, it seems as though gardening and farming techniques haven’t changed much over the past hundred years. Realistically, however, farming has undergone a quiet revolution over the last 60 years. Mechanization, tools, fertilizers and pesticides, and plant breeding techniques have more than doubled productivity since the end of WWII.
Today, with technology even further embedded in our culture, the next generation of hi-tech farmers and horticulturalists are working on ways to further revolutionize gardening and farming for the future. With new technologies emerging that integrate meteorological data and biotechnology, as well as innovative lighting techniques, farming and gardening today are unlike anything we’ve seen before.
In order to understand the gardens and farms of the future, today’s tech-savvy agriculturalists are thinking big and outside the box. They are imagining new ways of improving existing processes without losing the innate spirit of the gardening or farming experience. With so much innovation occurring in these areas right now, we decided to take a deep dive into the technologies that are changing the way we grow our foods.
Traditionally, gardens require a fair amount of space for cultivation. Herb gardens can be fairly small, but for larger vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, and kale, you’ll need more space. In urban areas where space is a luxury, you may not have access to a 5’ x 5’ plot of land for you to dig into, so if you can’t grow out, then grow up.
It was this need for space in urban areas that led directly to this radical new garden design. By growing vertically, gardeners or farmers can produce in one acre the same yield as 4-6 acres of traditionally farmed land. Not only is production per square foot improved, but vertical gardens can be grown indoors or out, use about 70 percent less water, and indoor units can grow food year-round.
To emphasize the overall impact of vertical farming on the future of food, it has the potential to make cities the agricultural factories of the future. Kenneth Freeman, an interior landscaping and sustainability consultant, believes that a big part of the urbanization of farming is due to the vast improvements in LED lighting technology. “Today’s LED lighting accelerates plant growth and allows for high-yield farming to be accomplished in small, urban areas while remaining cost-effective,” says Freeman. “The technology has improved to where these lights produce far less heat than before. They no longer require building owners to spend a fortune installing expensive air conditioning units to prevent overheating. Temperatures, for the most part, remain stable in these indoor farming endeavors.”
High-tech garden tools
What if the plants in your garden could communicate with you? It sounds like a pretty far-out idea, but technology has made this possible. There are now devices that can inform you that your plants need to be watered or that nitrogen levels in the soil are too low. All of this is possible thanks to the aforementioned Internet of Things that will help you monitor your garden to ensure the highest yields and the happiest, healthiest plants.
Devices such as Edyn and greenIQ allow you to monitor soil mineral contents, soil moisture levels, sunlight exposure, and greenIQ can even tap into weather forecasts to let you know when it’s about to rain so you don’t overwater your plants. With a simple wifi connection, all of the data and monitoring reports are logged and sent directly to your device.
Even interior landscapers are embracing new technology to ensure better, healthier ornamental plant displays. “New sensor technology has recently begun to emerge that monitors the conditions in green walls and valuable indoor trees,” says Freeman. “This ‘Internet of Things’ technology will give landscapers early warnings of potential problems and allow them to be fixed before they become visible or the plants need to be replaced.”
Robots have revolutionized tasks in areas such as automobile assembly, military services, and space exploration. They have allowed humans to accomplish things and go places that we couldn’t do on our own. But what about farming? Believe it or not, robots are the future of industrial farming. In September of 2017, a robot harvested a field of barley, but not just any field of barley, but a field that was also planted by robots. It was the first-ever fully automated agricultural feat accomplished with no direct human interference.
As a whole, industrial agriculture and large-scale agriculture has always been a very manual and hands-on business. But with GPS positioning and robotic technology having reached a tipping point, the days of harsh manual farming are likely in the rearview mirror. We’re not here to predict the future, but it looks as though robots may be the farmers of the future.
Hydroponic agriculture is a relatively new technology that has grown in popularity over the past several years for many reasons, but primarily due to the practice’s faster plant growth rate and higher yields. But there’s more, hydroponic gardening requires less space, doesn’t need soil, is incredibly water-efficient, and the list goes on. These are just some of the reasons why hydroponics, along with vertical gardening, is viewed as an integral part of feeding our planet’s growing population.
What is hydroponic growing though? Hydroponic growing is essentially growing plants without soil. In place of soil, a water pump system feeds a nutrient-rich solution to the plants at regularly scheduled intervals. The system is incredibly efficient, using only about 10 percent of the water that traditional farming techniques use. These systems generally allow for almost complete control over the farmer’s crop, including temperature control, nutrient control, and water distribution. Although still in its infancy, hydroponics appear to be a big part of our future.
For those interested in learning more about the technical aspects of gardening and planting, we recommend the Ultimate Guide to Hanging Baskets article!