During a recent interview process, I was asked to submit a writing assignment. The task was to draft a blog post combining the following topics:
- Trends for next generation of Agribusiness
- How Blockchain will influence the farm-to-table movement
Or a blog post for each topic. Being a certified city boy, the concept of agribusiness was new to me and I had recently learned a little bit about the basic concept of the blockchain. I dug my heels in and did the research for the piece and came up with the following blog post draft. The assignment was very well received and ensured that I entered the next round of applicants.
Top 5 New Technology Trends Coming to Agriculture
What new and current technologies will be making a big impact in the future of agriculture.
As the global population continues to increase, as many as 10 billion people by 2050 according to the FAO, the needs placed on the agriculture industry increase accordingly. Solutions for these future problems could already be here today. From quickly checking on crops and livestock, being able to know exactly when the carrot you are eating was planted, watered, and harvested, to using exactly the right amount of water on crops to maximize water efficiency.
What started off as a military application has evolved and become so widely accepted that it is considered by some a “child’s toy.” Drones are much more than that. Over the years drones have found their way into everyday life, some can deliver purchased products to the customer’s home in 30 minutes or less. An entire sports genre has erupted around flying high-speed drones through abandoned buildings and structures. Drones of today could be used in agriculture. Drones can be used to visually check on crops and herds of livestock, spray crops, plant seeds, and more.
2. Shipping Containers
Land, especially farmland, has always been at a premium. The reason being is that there is a predetermined and limited supply. So when you can’t plant out, what can you do? Plant up. Vertical farms, made out of shipping containers offer a solution to the need to increase crop yield in a predetermined footprint. In addition to getting more crops from a 160 square foot (8ft x 20ft) or 320 square foot (8ft x 40ft) footprint, shipping container farms are more dependable in reliable crop yields. LEDs can provide full spectrum lighting, automated irrigation systems can be fully self-contained, power needs can be supplied via solar panels, all of which can be stacked 2 or even 3 containers high, thereby multiplying the yield per square foot. One shipping container farm can yield as much crop as an acre of land at 90% less water usage. Additionally, these shipping container farms are right at home in both urban and rural environments.
When most people hear blockchain they think of Bitcoin. That magical electronic form of currency that seems to be making people millionaires overnight, yet not many people know how or why. Bitcoin, Ripple, Etherium, all called cryptocurrencies, are based on Blockchains. While the likelihood of cryptocurrency being used in agribusiness transactions is high, this isn’t the only impact the blockchain will have on the future of agribusiness.
To put it simply, the blockchain is the digital equivalent of a ledger, like the ones used by banks or even the one you keep track of your personal or business checking and savings accounts. The difference is that the blockchain isn’t kept at the bank, your desk, or nightstand. Because it’s virtual it is kept on a P2P (peer to peer) network. Having it be non-centralized is what makes it secure. It would be like having multiple copies of a ledger that all check and balance one another. If someone tried to change one, to give themselves more money for example, and the rest don’t match then the one that is incorrect is made void. The blockchain doesn’t stop at financial transactions.
The entire life cycle of livestock or crop can be contained within a blockchain. Each step can be recorded into a blockchain making it almost impossible to augment. Consumers could one day use a phone app at the supermarket and with one scan know that the beef they are buying was born and raised on a farm in Northwest Iowa, know what kind of feed it was given, how big it was when it was taken to slaughter, who slaughtered it, what day and time it was processed and delivered to the store and even how many times it was scanned for freshness. The entire life cycle of our fruits, vegetables, and proteins could be just a click or barcode scan away. The concept of “from farm to table” can become more tangible for the consumer. This amount of transparency will help boost consumer confidence while helping enforce adherence to best agricultural practices.
As computers become smaller and cheaper their uses continue to grow. Individuals are looking at these small microcomputer platforms such as Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos to automate homes. Everything from turning the lights off when you leave a room, sending you a text when your washer and dryer are done, monitoring the temperature of the house and even controlling the thermostat with your voice. Temperature monitoring is in the same technical space of moisture monitoring. By using microcomputers with moisture sensors, wireless networks, and solar power, agriculture can keep track of the moisture content of their crops’ soil. Thereby watering only when needed, or water specific areas with higher absorption rates than others. The same technology can be used to track and adjust the nutrients given to livestock and crops as well. These small, credit card sized computers are already finding their way into small urban farms.
5. Autonomous Vehicles
Still, in the early concept stages, autonomous agricultural machinery is already on its way. Some private individuals are currently reaping the benefits of their own homemade “RoboTractors” Machines that can drill, harvest and/or even plant crops with little to no human interaction. These machines, in some cases, allow for 24-hour operation over multiple days, something a normal human being is unable or unwilling to do, reduced labor costs, increased speed, and efficiency during crop lifecycles. Large companies are already at work on autonomous agriculture solutions. Familiar agricultural names and powerhouses like Case IH, Fendt, John Deere, and more have all began introducing concept products to market.
Agriculture is big business, and for it to continue to grow it has to evolve. Each of these pieces of new technology is an evolution of something that came before it, they need to be embraced by the agricultural industry to ensure a bright a prosperous future.