What Will the Future of Food Production Look Like?
This is a guest blog from Innovate UK - the UK's Innovation Agency
The world’s population is increasing, causing a potential strain on key resources. By 2050, the population will be around 10 billion people. The big question arising from the statistic is whether there’ll be enough food to accommodate everyone.
There are new technologies in place to address the issue and more. Not only will we need more food, but our cultivation of it will have to be sustainable, efficient and environmentally friendly. The technology will not only push food production in this direction, but make the food better, healthy and more affordable for the consumer.
We can improve the efficiency and quality of our crop yields by implementing new smart technology into farming.
Precision farming revolves around optimising every aspect of the process, to the point people don’t need to be physically present in the fields.
Autonomous tractors will have pre-planned GPS routes already mapped out for them, calculated to be the most efficient routes to minimise soil erosion and increase crop yields.
In much the same way crop yielding is optimised, new technologies are already making an impact on how livestock are monitored. The animals’ diets can be optimised and their fertility monitored, all without being physically present. Herds become healthier and more productive as a result.
Another method is through vertical farming, which involves growing crops in a controlled environment. The crops receive just the right amount of nutrients, heat, light and water, and only when they’re deemed to be in their peak condition are they harvested.
An added advantage is the ability to subvert many aspects of the process. Using LED lights, you can extend the lifespan of some crops so they can be harvested 24/7.
It will also be possible to produce food in new environments that aren’t necessarily tailored towards farming. In cities, for example, hydroponics can be utilised, meaning only recyclable water with nutrients is used instead of soil.
Targeted Food Production
The demands of the people can be catered to by utilising new food production technology. This can range from alternative protein demands to allergen-free foods.
Controversially, insects may be used as an alternative protein source. They’re an ideal source of protein, while also being cheaper and easier to cultivate compared to livestock.
Gene editing technology can remove allergens from foods, and create new crops that are healthier in certain areas (new crops with more omega-3 enriched oils will have cardiovascular benefits, for example).
What This Means for Jobs
With all this talk of automation and new technology, it can be tempting to think this will lead to lower job opportunities. We’re all fed stories about the machines taking over and killing valuable jobs.
However, this isn’t necessarily the case.
We assume the new technology will make us obsolete, but the main functionality of the new machines is to assist as opposed to replace. We don’t need to physically go out into the fields, but room has now opened up for us to focus on other aspects of the farming process. Automation looks to replace part of the job, as opposed to the entire job.
The autonomous tractors only replace one part of the process, for example, but it doesn’t mean the farmer is rendered completely useless. He or she no longer needs to use the tractor. The human element is still required in vertical farming and gene editing, whether it’s operating the technology itself or coming up with new and creative ways of enhancing these systems.
All in all, new technological advancements shouldn’t be considered a threat to jobs in general. While machines may replace some areas, other areas then open up in order to accommodate the new changes.
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