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Can Sustainable Agriculture Feed the World?
| November 10, 2023 |

We continuously hear the statistic that food production will need to increase 70% by 2050, but how exactly are we going to do that? This data point has been one of the driving forces of a variety of innovative technologies and practices and right alongside it has been the push for more sustainable agriculture. Food security and sustainability seem to go hand-in-hand, but can sustainable agriculture feed the world? 

This is the only way that we are going to maintain the demands of the growing population. While sustainability has become quite the buzzword throughout nearly every industry, it is within good reason. Implementing and adopting sustainable technologies and practices is going to become the backbone of the future of agriculture and food security across the world.  

Conventional has been successful in getting us where we are today in terms of food production, but the world is constantly evolving and changing – and not always for the better. We are seeing available farmland shrink, prices rise, labor shortages, the repercussions of climate change, and other vital resources becoming increasingly restricted. This has drastically impacted agriculture and will continue to pressure the industry to get more with less. 

 

Precision Agricultures Role in Food Sustainability 

The future of agriculture hinges on precision agriculture as there’s simply no better way to get more with less than with this technology. Precision agriculture technologies have opened the door for more precise, efficient, and effective agriculture. From more accurate measurements to guiding input application – and everything else in between – precision agriculture has benefited each sector of agriculture in some form or another. 

Aerial imagery from drone systems, for instance, has been a key innovation in precision agriculture by helping researchers, product developers, agronomists, growers, and others in the agricultural value chain to get a whole picture of what is happening at the field edge. While boots-on-the-ground scouting continues to have immense value, aerial imagery provides objective data, faster without reducing its quality. This allows for timelier, well-informed decisions that can result in higher yields. 

Other than more efficiently and accurately identifying problem areas, precision agriculture assists in reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment by limiting waste and the application and use of key resources. Using technologies like GPS, we’re able to pinpoint areas in need of key inputs and better inform application decisions, versus the alternative of applying to the whole field or larger areas which often leads to: 

  • Wasting key resources resulting in higher expenses and damaging already dwindling supplies 
  • Leaching, drift, runoff which leads to contamination of nearby areas and water sources 
  • Increased risk of resistance to inputs like herbicides and pesticides 

From more precise herbicide application to informing irrigation strategies, leveraging these technologies are only here to help and improve the process. Precision agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to more sustainable agriculture. The idea of more precise and accurate measurements to fuel decisions around input use is monumental in the mission to optimize food production while limiting resource use.  

 

Sustainable Practices and Advancements to Feed the World 

The farming community – and world – has frequently and noticeably experienced the repercussions of climate change through a variety of symptoms like increased temperatures, extreme weather like droughts, and the evolution of weeds. Other than precision agriculture, there have been a variety of innovative and sustainable solutions introduced to the industry to combat these environmental concerns – even as intricate as advancements to seed traits.  

Practices before and after the season can help to promote more sustainable and productive results by improving key factors like soil quality and better protect against pests and diseases.  

For example, crop rotation helps to improve soil health and eventually reduce the need for pesticides. And planting cover crops in between cash crops can help to suppress weeds, protect the soil, and improve water movement and behavior in your fields. These are just two simple practices that can be implemented to promote more sustainable agriculture while working to maximize yields. 

Then there are specific advancements and research done to get directly to the source: the seed. Whether it be introducing and modifying traits to reduce plants’ need for water or to make them more durable against less-than-ideal conditions, these advancements are being made for the future of sustainable and successful agriculture.  

Some of these product advancements include: 

  • The stay green trait, which helps crops to stay green for longer – even under drought and heat stress. This helps to preserve water and helps crops sustain conditions that would otherwise damage or kill them.  
  • Insignum’s solution of creating a new gene from pieces of already existing DNA to trigger color change due to stress and infection. This is a new and improved way of managing crop stress and performance. By identifying an infection earlier, it can be treated quicker and less of the crop will be damaged. 
  • Short-stature corn which is engineered to be shorter and more durable to drought and winds, directly encouraging higher yields and success. With increased frequency of extreme and undesirable weather conditions, advancements like this are pivotal in the switch to smarter, more sustainable ag.  

 

So, Can Sustainable Agriculture Feed the World?  

This question can be summed up by everyone’s favorite answer: it depends 

It depends on technology adoption.  

It depends on adjustments made to field practices.  

It depends on how accessible and attainable sustainable agriculture is to everyone in the industry. 

There is no simple way to make this drastic jump in productivity while also preserving resources and reducing environmental impact to the best of our abilities. However, agriculture’s resilience continues to shine through innovative solutions like the technology and practices discussed in this blog post and many more. 

If accessibility to the tools and technologies needed to promote more sustainable agriculture continues to improve, the industry will (hopefully) continue to adopt and implement them into their strategies. And as time progresses, we will see more real-world results of newer solutions which will help to gauge success and lead to an increased acceptance and adoption. 

While there’s not necessarily a one and done solution to solving the world food challenge, the different aspects of sustainable agriculture have the power to take the necessary footsteps towards increasing food production to meet the rising demands. Making crops more resistant to drought, heat, and other extreme weather conditions is monumental to increasing and maintaining better yields. Sustainable technology and practices are going to be our biggest asset in feeding the world. 

 

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