Sustainable Agriculture: Turning to Tech to Feed the Planet
The demand for food is increasing as the world’s population continues to grow. Contemporary technology can satisfy that demand but at a heavy cost – rising greenhouse-gas emissions, industrial farming, deforestation of rainforests, overfertilization, and overfishing, among other environmentally destructive practices. Can sustainable agriculture be achieved with more modern techniques? And in what areas can we act now to improve our future?
High-protein food items such as meat and dairy are contributing to climate crisis and biodiversity loss. The latest Living Planet report revealed an average decline of 69% in species populations since 1970.
The severity of this situation was recognized by the United Nations, which argued that “current practices cannot be scaled up… without causing further grave damage to the environment.”
Table of contents:
- Plant-based Foods and Climate Change
- Food Tech and AI
- Examples of AI in Agriculture
- Cell-based Meat Alternatives
- 3D Food Printing
Can plant-based foods help fight climate change?
It is crucial that we reduce the environmental impact of food production and consumption both now and in the future. This is a necessary step to keep the Paris Climate Agreement’s objectives alive and limit global temperatures to less than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
To do this, we need to transform the agriculture and food industries. There are new opportunities for businesses to consumers for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. Using the latest artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies we can accelerate innovation and encourage adoption. And Appsilon is here to help.
Sustainable Agriculture Developments – Food Tech and AI
The good news is that there are plenty of companies exploring innovative ways of feeding the world more sustainably. At the time of writing, there are more than 65,400 startups in the food- and agri-tech sectors. Investment in innovative food and agriculture ideas has grown substantially in recent years. $8.5 billion in venture capital was raised in 2021 – ten times as much as in 2016. And the amount raised this year is set to exceed that.
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How is AI revolutionizing food and agriculture?
The key to many of these revolutionary ideas is automation, robotics, and AI. By turning to tech, farmers are producing more while causing less harm to the environment.
Perception technologies, for instance, use cameras and sensors to detect and monitor various aspects of a crop’s lifecycle, while AI processes the data from those sensors and provides solutions to optimize their growth. Robotics and automated machines then collect produce when it’s ready to go to market, or recover any crops identified as unhealthy during their lifecycle.
Vertical Farming and AI
One significant development is the growing adoption of vertical farming, the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers in climate-controlled indoor farms. AI is used in these vertical farms to monitor the parameters required for crop growth. This includes light levels, water, and temperature. On the mechanical side, crops are maneuvered using robotics. This automated maneuvering ensures optimum growing conditions.
In addition to ensuring high-quality produce all year long, vertical farming with help of AI and robotics can consume up to 95% less water, land, and fertilizers than conventional approaches.
Examples of AI Tech in Agriculture
As demonstrated by its application in vertical farming, AI is becoming an influential player in improving the sustainability and efficiency of agriculture.
AI and Farm Equipment
California-based Blue River Technology combines computer vision and machine learning to solve issues such as differentiating weeds from crops, detecting farm objects, and controlling large machinery. Today, its innovative technology continues to empower its customers to implement more sustainable solutions to optimize chemical usage, reimagine routine processes, and improve their farming yields year after year.
AI and Agronomy
Another innovative company, Trace Genomics, has developed a highly scalable software and analytics platform to quantify soil productivity, using high-throughput DNA sequencing, AI, and a growing database of microbial species living in agricultural soils to identify and profile soil microbiomes, interpreting key soil health and disease risk indicators for soil samples. Its Sustainable Soil Performance Rating (SSP) allows agricultural producers to track the environmental impact of their management practices and cropping cycles. Ultimately, it supports the performance of cropping systems in a sustainable manner.
AI and the Meat Industry
Perhaps one of the most discussed advances in sustainable food production, however, is the growth in plant-based and lab-grown meat alternatives. With a market expected to be worth at least $290 billion by 2035, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this area is proving particularly exciting for many companies.
Will Cell-based Meat Alternatives Save the Planet?
Total emissions from global livestock currently stand at 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent per year – accounting for 14.5% of all greenhouse gases originating from human activity. Making burgers from plants instead of beef, however, would require 99% less water, 93% less land, and 46% less energy, and would generate 90% fewer greenhouse gases. Alternative meats may not save the planet, but they sure will help.
Shear-cell technology is one such food-tech option aiming to solve this issue.
What is shear-cell technology?
It’s an innovative process developed by researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, transforming vegetable protein into a layered, fibrous structure resembling the appearance and texture of steak. As part of the ‘Plant Meat Matters’ project, the university is currently developing the use of a 3D food printer to upscale the technology and produce large volumes of plant-based meat.
3D Food Printing and Meat Alternatives
3D food printing technology has significant potential as a sustainable and environmentally friendly addition to the industry. This technology is being applied to ‘food recycling’, where food waste is used to fabricate other food products. That’s an important development when you consider that a third of the food produced annually for human consumption is discarded.
Mycorena, a pioneer in the field of mycoproteins from Sweden, and Revo Foods, a 3D food printing company from Austria, have just formed a research partnership to examine the potential of 3D food printing mycelium-based products.
Do consumers like meat alternatives and AI flavors?
While the end product may look and feel like meat, consumer adoption of 3D-printed food will depend on its taste, a concern that’s being addressed by companies like Firmenich.
Using a rule-based formula generation model leveraging raw material usage statistics drawn from its broad formulae databases, Firmenich has created what it calls the world’s first AI flavor – a natural beef taste for use in plant-based meat substitutes.
The concept of accurately flavored, 3D-printed meat alternatives may still be in a nascent stage, but there’s certainly a demand for alternative protein products. Sales of plant-based alternatives to animal products grew 12.1% in the year to July 2021 – 53% up on the previous year – with an increase of 43% in the purchase of meat alternatives.
AI and the Future of Sustainable AgTech
This is good news for the agriculture industry and the agtech companies whose technology is supporting environmental and sustainability efforts. As with all other industries today, data is key. And leveraging data with AI and machine learning technologies accelerates the pace of innovation. Traditional cultivation of foods required to feed our growing population is no longer sustainable. It’s time to turn to technology to explore much-needed alternatives.
Want to see how AI, computer vision, and machine learning models can help your business? Contact the Appsilon AI & Research team to learn more about computer vision and machine learning solutions. From seed selection to remotely sensed crops, discover the power of AI and Agtech.