Could Technology be the Answer to Feeding the Planet?

Netflix’s latest series “The Society” follows a group of high school students trying to survive in a town without adults

The students must learn how to do everything for themselves. In order to secure food supply, they have no choice but to learn how to farm sustainably if their limited resources are to last long enough to allow them to survive.   

This may leave you wondering what this has to do with using innovative tech to feed the earth. Well, the situation faced by students in “The Society” bears a striking resemblance to the food supply predicament we currently find ourselves in. Unless we develop more sustainable agricultural practices, we will not be able to guarantee global food-supply for generations to come. 

A recent McKinsey study has shown that food demand is on a steep incline. By 2020, global caloric demand will increase by 70 percent and crop demand will increase by 100 percent. With current agricultural practice, this level of growth is simply not sustainable for the planet.  

Agriculture is an industry that is no stranger to technology, especially when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT). Putting technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence to the side, IoT is revolutionising the industry. By enabling intelligent objects to connect to one another and to the outside world using the internet – it’s possible to be smarter in our approach to farming. Utilising sensors and processors make it much more feasible to farm in real-time. The question is, are enough farmers using IoT technologies, and are they doing so sustainably? 

Connected Agriculture 

IoT can be adopted into agricultural practices in many ways. One interesting example of this is precision farming. This is a method that pursues the goal of managing agricultural land in a site-differentiated and targeted manner. Take a farm full of cattle for example. By implementing Precision Farming Technologies (PFT), it becomes possible for the farmer to monitor each individual animal on the farm. This means monitoring the animal’s temperature, nutrition levels and also monitoring for illness or stress. This enables livestock farmers to identify any poorly animals – and to treat them and get them back to health faster. Whilst each farmer will monitor different things, dependent on the livestock they are looking after – the idea remains the same. IoT sensors provide real-time insights into each animal, ensuring livestock welfare, sustainability and minimising loss of produce. 

Another example of using IoT in agriculture is Variable Rate Technology (VRT). This is similar to precision farming, but instead of measuring livestock, measures site-specific or partial-impact soil tillage using differential global positioning systems.  

Preparing for change 

To showcase smart technologies at play in the agriculture world, a great example is smart vineyards. For vineyards to remain sustainable, we must be aware of the impact that global warming is having on viticulture. This means preparing for rapid weather changes, and extreme weather conditions.  

This is why today, we’re witnessing more and more winegrowers placing reliance on sensors distributed around the vineyards. The sensors are relied on to send environmental data, drone images and information about the composition of the leaves to cloud platforms. The result – an easier way to plan work on a day-to-day basis. Essentially, thanks to IoT technology – wine growers get much more peace of mind.  

Farming smarter, not harder 

Being smarter in our approach is more important than ever before. It’s important farmers understand that IoT does not remove them from their social responsibilities. Previously used unsustainable methods like poor irrigation practices have contributed to the loss of about one quarter of land used for agriculture over the last 25 years. To put this into perspective, this means that every three years, an area the size of Germany is lost to deserts. Whilst, the world’s population has grown by about two billion in the same time period.  

These reasons make clear the need for innovative technologies in agriculture. Beyond IoT; hydroponics, where crops are cultivated with measured water and nutrient supply is another approach which is already being taken on board by farmers. With hydroponics, less water is consumed and there is no need for herbicides, whilst crop quality is boosted.   

If we are to ensure sustainable food supply going forward, we need to act today. The technology and the science is available to us. All we need to do now is to put our knowledge and expertise into action.  

About the Author

Martin Hodgson is Head of UK and Ireland at Paessler. Paessler AG, a leading worldwide provider of network monitoring software, provides IT and network administrators with comprehensive network monitoring tools that are easy to use, easy to buy, and easy to install and maintain.