How we use water, or rather misuse water is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when facing the future on our densely populated planet. As we mentioned in the previous blog, water is a major part of all human activity and this year the World Economic Forum has estimated that the water crisis is the number one risk when considering its likelihood to happen and potential impact on the world´s population.
We all know that we need water to survive but what we sometimes forget is that everything we eat and use needs water in different stages of its production. In our last blog we mentioned the challenges industries are facing to be able to thrive in a water-scarce future. It becomes clear, when we look at where in the production process the majority of the water is used; that the agricultural sector providing industries with its raw material, stands for the biggest part of the final products water footprint.
It is estimated agriculture alone stands for around 70% of the world global water consumption; taking in consideration that the world population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050 the food production must increase with 70% by 2050 according to Food and Agricultural Organization.
The increased production trough mechanization and other modern measures have come with a high-energy price, today the full food and supply chain stands for approximately 30% of the total global energy demand. The energy use facilitates land preparation, fertilizer production, irrigation and the sowing, harvesting and transportation of crops.
As we face the future we need to take everything into account and consider not only the agricultural activity as a food supplier but as a fundamental building block to all our industrial activities. To be able to supply the world with enough food as well as satisfying our need for products and services we must adapt a more energy and water efficient agricultural practice. Our agricultural activities impacts water through land degradation, water runoff changes, disruption of groundwater discharge, water quality and reduction of available water and land for natural habitats.
The need of a general change of mindset, implementations of new policies and international regulations, together with a wide spread knowledge about sustainable agricultural practices; have become both more obvious and urgent.
One possible path towards addressing the need for increased quality and quantity of agricultural production is the use of sensing technology to make farms more “intelligent” and more connected. With the use of so-called “precision agriculture” also known as ‘smart farming’ farm offices can collect vast amounts of information from crop yields, soil-mapping, fertilizer applications, weather data, machinery, and animal health, helping farms take more informed decisions to achieve higher yields as well as making them less vulnerable. Today more and more companies understand this need and are working on developing such analytic tools, creating platforms and applications that collect, shares and analyzes data from wireless sensor technologies.
To read more about these technologies see Forbes article: The future of agriculture smart farming.
A new approach to the traditional greenhouse is the CropBox this high tech controlled environment makes it possible to grow more with less. Inside the box plants grow on several layers of shelves with built-in lights and recirculating water and nutrients. Sensors measure everything from the temperature of the plants’ roots to carbon dioxide levels and light intensity.
This hydroponic shipping container allows the farmer to grow all year in an eight-crop cycle and it is possible to monitor and adjust almost every element automatically from a smartphone. The smartphone app connects with a webcam allowing you to see your crops at any time, it also collects data, creating charts that allows the grower to optimize the next cycle as well as compare the collected data with other growers.
Because it’s a hydroponic system, it uses 90% less water and 80% less pesticide than conventional agriculture. If it’s located directly next to a restaurant or grocery store, it also saves fuel for transportation.
One drawback to this technology is that it uses considerable amounts of electricity, but as technology like LED lighting improves, the energy use of a unit is dropping. It could also be hooked to solar panels generating at least part of the needed power supply. The solar driven CropBox is a bit of an ironic construction: when generating electricity with solar power to give artificial solar power to our crops, creating with this loop a more efficient crop yield, but ironic or not, all new inventions to feed the world are more than welcomed.
The hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. This growing method can be used in a high-tech environment such as the CropBox but it doesn’t need to be so sophisticated. In the next blog we will share some simple but effective methods to grow food with hydroponics system in your own home.