The trends discussed are those that are driving the increase in agricultural technology and clearly intensify the transformation from standard practices to the agricultural techniques of tomorrow.
Global population is predicted to reach 9.1billion by 2050 according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Currently, there is enough food produced to support the population of today, however, it is inefficiently delivered meaning that there are people around the world starving alongside large amounts of food wastage from other areas. The increasing population level brings with it an increase in demand for food and feed. This level of demand is increasing beyond today’s capabilities creating a necessity for improved efficiency and production techniques. The United Nations predict a 70% increase in supply would be required to meet the demand by 2050. The development of agricultural technologies could be the answer to partnering the required demand with supply through potential increases in yield, efficiency and a reduction in waste.
The second trend impacting agriculture are the changes in societal views and demographics. In societies around the world, we are starting to see an emergence in middle classes in developing countries with examples in Israel, China and India. This emergence of the middle class is increasing the demand for “richer” diets that are higher in protein, calorific value and convenience. Increased level of education worldwide provides the potential for an attitude change and a possible cause of changing diet trends globally having a knock on effect on production and supply. In recent years, there has been an increase in vegetarian and veganism leading to an increased demand for high quality and nutritious vegetables and meat alternatives.
Thirdly, an increased level of urbanisation is reducing the amount of land available for farming. There is an increased demand for homes and office space along with infrastructure to allow for the development of supply chain and improvement of access to transport. This land use is leading to an increased need for new and innovative ways of farming to assist in the increased level of supply even with a reduction in land area for farming. These could be ideas such as vertical farming, smart greenhouses or hydroponics. Currently in the UK, only 1% of the population work in farming but 72% of the land is currently farmed. (Our Future in the Land, RSA — 2019)
Agriculture is often perceived as using old technology as the deviation from tradition can cause more issues than solutions. However, an increase in the intelligence of technology could allow for increased efficiencies leading to reduced cost and increased ease of farming mechanisms. Currently, farming is a very time intensive profession with little return in many cases. Increasing the efficiency levels through the integration of smart technology would help to reduce time intensity. One example of smart technology in farming would be the use of sensors on crops or livestock for tracking. For crops, this could be tracking their growing environment to allow for improvements to be made where necessary or the tracking of growth stage so they know when to harvest and any treatment required. In livestock, sensors could be used to track location as well as the health of the animal in the correct manner to ensure the best quality meats for the market as well as improve the sustainability of farming.
The majority of current crop treatments (pesticides, fertilisers and crop protection) used in conventional farming contain harmful chemicals that would pollute the fields and water systems around those being treated. With advancement in biotechnology, these harmful chemicals can be replaced with biological alternatives to prevent such damage occurring on such a large scale, if at all. Alongside the development of biopesticides and biostimulants, sits the development of crop protection methods including crop enhancement via coating or through gene enhancement subsequently leading to a potential increased yield and efficiencies whilst continuing to protect against disease.
Alongside advancements in technology, the development of supply chains is important. Increasing the value chain integration within the market is driving agriculture into a more complex and communicative space. For larger firms to get the most out of their supply chains they must begin to integrate vertically as well as horizontally. This will allow them to optimise their usage and reduce any negative impact on the supply chain ensuring businesses continue trading through the development of the smaller suppliers. Developing the smaller suppliers that are a number of tiers below the large firms will allow for a more complex and technologically advanced supply chain bringing the level of the market to a greater level of development and capability.
The development of global trade will also shape the trends in agriculture with products being traded outside of their local environment. This increased level of trade could lead to an increase in national or international demand requiring an increase in yield and efficiency in current crops, as well as a greater demand for products that may not have been at the forefront of farmers’ minds. Global trade could also be applied to the products coming out of the biotechnological advancements in crop enhancements as many countries are seeing a need to eradicate the harmful chemicals in replacement with biologically created alternatives. The critical mass of countries using biotech crops globally has risen to 29, with 90% of those in resource-poor developing countries. (Food Crops Derived from Agricultural Biotechnology — Bio.org)
Sitting alongside global trade is the changing landscape of international regulations regarding the impact of materials used. This increased level of regulation is leading to companies having to find alternatives, whether chemically or biologically derived is up to the company. However, the original ingredient must be replaced for the product to continue to be sold. Regulation is the main driver in the development and advancement of products used in the agriculture market.
Here at CPI, we believe that investing in agritech is key to unlocking a sustainable future. We have experience working with emerging technologies and can provide companies with assistance to advance their agritech solutions towards commercialisation through our open access facilities and technological expertise. These facilities and expertise could be utilised by our partners to scale up, demonstrate and prove viable, green, low carbon solutions.