The need for technological agriculture


The Appalachian Online

Matt Zothner

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people farmed for themselves. When the Industrial Revolution occurred, we were able to produce a hundred times more food than previously expected.

Nowadays, a tiny fraction of the population feeds the whole. Because of this, the food industry is getting more difficult to manage and is terribly unsustainable.

The farmers of today have to keep up with the growing demand of food due to rising population numbers, and the technology to help them do this hasn’t really caught up. There are some major problems that farmers and agriculturists are facing, and the world needs to act quickly.

The solution could be the rising agri-tech industry.

The industry of agriculture technology, or agri-tech, has been recently making headlines for a few reasons. One reason is that companies like Agrilyst, the intelligence platform for indoor farms, are changing the way small farms do business. They harness data from all farm sensors, equipment and lights to let farmers know how to get the best yield on their crops.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it means changes for both the small scale and bigger picture. Better yields on crops means more food from smaller farms and a more sustainable food industry as a whole — something we must focus on to keep the planet healthy.

Farmers are now becoming more tech-savvy, utilizing IoT, or the Internet of Things, devices to monitor farm equipment, water levels, soil conditions and much more.

“The world is digitized, and we’re going to see the same digitization on the farm,” according to Michael Stern of Climate Corporation.

The trend is known as precision farming, and it will disrupt traditional farming practices as we know them. This is great news for those with sustainability in mind, because now every farmer can produce the best crops with less cost and better productivity.

In addition, modern practices like vertical and urban farming are helpful because they eliminate the need for a vast amount of land. The food grows in vertical greenhouses in or around cities, which reduces transportation costs to those cities (where nearly 80 percent of the population will live in 2050) and promotes “farm-to-table” lifestyles.

The real problem is less common in the United States.

Many farmers in this country sell their crops to big distributors, but farmers in developing countries don’t have the same access to technology as we do. Information from their crops is much harder to obtain, increasing the difficulty of farming in other developing nations. We need to focus on farmers and growing the agri-tech industry elsewhere in order to achieve a truly sustainable food industry for everyone.

With the advance in precision farming and harnessing of big data, startups focusing on agriculture technology can really make a profit and benefit the world in the process. But more than ever, the focus should be on the farmers. Without local farmers, in our hometowns and across the world, there would be no food.

Technology needs to help those in need, and tech-savvy farmers, with the help of agri-tech, could be the solution for a prosperous and sustainable world.

Zothner, a junior marketing major from Cary, is an opinion writer.