17 Apr Guest Post: Innovations in Agriculture
In high school, my Ag teacher had a saying, “Leave it better than you found it.” This saying applied to pretty much everything, the classroom, the bus after FFA trips, our officer room, and even our agriscience program. The idea behind it was that by making things “better than we found it” was that those after us would have success or at least a head start thanks to our efforts. That motto was simple, yet very impactful. I think that motto can not only apply to our daily lives, but also to our impact on the planet. Not to get all hippy, but climate change is a huge issue and it seems that everyone has an opinion on it. Some opinions based on science and some not, nonetheless, climate change and the effects it will have on the planet are some issues we all should be paying attention to.
Industry’s impacting the climate like transportation, power, and agriculture are resorting to more sustainable methods to not only reduce their impact on the planet but also to appease consumers. Consumers are now on the lookout for products and services that are more sustainable than the competition. Examples of this are electric cars like Teslas are booming in popularity and power companies investing more in solar and other forms of renewable energy.
As for the agriculture sector, which usually gets more blame than it rightly deserves, countless innovations have been made to bring consumers a more sustainable food supply. Sustainability is the name of the game as more consumers want food that is locally sourced and produced in such a way that it has a minimal impact on the environment. Ag innovators across the globe are creating better planting techniques, processing technology, and much more.
On a small scale, one such example is Vine Farm Dairy in the United Kingdom. Unlike most dairies that collect milk and then ship it off to get processed, bottled, then sent to stores, Vine Farm Dairy has come up with an ingenious method: a milk vending machine. Instead of going the normal route, the dairy pasteurizes the milk on-site and then stores it in tanks that are attached to their milk vending machine. Local consumers can come to the dairy, bring their own bottles or buy some from the dairy, and buy milk straight from the vending machine. This not only helps reduce transportation and processing costs, but it also helps create a wonderful relationship between the consumers with the dairy. Anytime someone needs milk, they can just pop over to Vine Farm Dairy, meet some of the dairymen, learn a thing or two about milk production, and then get some fresh milk before going home. This innovation has created a wonderful product for the community as well as a unique experience for their consumers. Locals love the chance to see the cows face to face as well as support a local farm with such a convenient product. It’s a win/win for all parties involved. This innovation certainly seems to be gaining in popularity as dairies across the U.K. are adopting the vending machine model, some even mobile vending machine units. The dairy industry across the world is certainly struggling to combat milk alternatives, but innovations like the milk vending machine might just be the answer to helping the industry fight back.
Another great example comes from Saudi Arabia and how one ag start-up is harnessing the power of saltwater to grow tomatoes in the desert. In a barren landscape like the desert, high-quality soil is not an abundant source, this forces farmers to grow using produce using greenhouses and growing techniques like hydroponics, which relies mostly on water for growing crops and maintaining greenhouse temperatures. However, what little freshwater they have, is devoted to the plants, but Red Sea Farms has created a way to take advantage of the abundance of saltwater in the area. With most commercial greenhouses, large cooling systems require vast amounts of water to help regular temperatures in the greenhouse. In Red Sea Farms case, they have a new system that uses saltwater in the cooling systems. On top of this, they are also researching how to better produce high-quality crops in low-quality soil. The middle east and other parts of the world, do not have ideal soil conditions for crops nor do they have large quantities of fresh water for irrigating crops. Through plant breeding and rigorous testing, Red Sea Farms is developing crops that can grow in not the best soil conditions and still produce high-quality crops and yields. This new technology can greatly help farmers around the world, reduce inputs into the soil, and create more opportunities for locally sourced produce.
Innovations like the milk vending machine and saltwater tomatoes are both further proof that people in the agriculture industry are an ingenious bunch. Faced with challenges and setbacks, they keep producing and keep innovating to feed us all. With new technology and new sustainable production methods, our food supply us continuing to develop to not only meet our needs, but also to meet our wants. We wanted sustainable food, now we are getting sustainable food. But the honest truth is that agriculture has been sustainable for quite some time. While other industries are slowly coming around to reduce their impact on the environment, agriculture has been taking steps for centuries. We understand that by reducing our impact, we can ensure that we will leave the planet better than we found it.