The use of technology in agriculture has been given a bad reputation by certain agrochemical products banned in different countries around the world. Recent bans of glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s famous herbicide “Round Up”, are among the latest controversies to hit the headlines.
Nevertheless, in uncertain times, food resilience becomes more important than ever and the sustainability of the global food supply chain has been called into question. The issue is complex. The UN reported in 2013 that an estimated one third of all food produced globally is wasted or lost. “How can we produce more?” is not therefore the only important question, it also vital to consider the questions: “How can we produce food differently?” and “how can we distribute food more effectively?”.
This is where Agritech, also known as AgTech, comes in. The global Agritech market is projected to reach $13.5 billion by 2023 and it’s a far more diverse market place than agrochemical giants jostling for space.
In fact, tech can even replace chemicals; precision tools can now be used for smart weeding, allowing farmers to remove weeds quickly without damaging crops. Drones equipped with cameras and sensors are also increasingly used to monitor crop health, assess soil condition and track animals.
Hydroponic farming allows for efficient use of space, a reduction in grow time and all year-round production. Crucially this allows for farmers to continue to produce crops and even produce more, when faced with climatic conditions which are increasingly unpredictable. Smart water management is another trending topic (e.g. Hortau) for obvious reasons and often uses internet of things technology. As well as how we grow, biotech has long influenced what we grow. Nevertheless, genetic modification is not the only option.
Companies like Entocycle use cutting-edge IP-protected technology to convert food waste into insect-based alternative protein sources for livestock feed, reducing the meat industry’s reliance on soy – a big contributor to deforestation. This is particularly powerful when we consider the vast number of crops used for animal feed each year.
Meanwhile Apeel Science has developed a protective coating made from plant lipids to increase the shelf life of fruit and vegetables and tech firm Ripe allows consumers to view the entire growth and distribution chain of their purchase. By mapping out the journey of food, it allows us, as consumers, to make better-informed sustainable choices.
“At its core, AgTech is about using advanced monitoring and data analysis to do more with less – to find ways to increase yields without burdening already overtaxed resources such as land and water.” [World Economic Forum](https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/why-the-agtech-boom-isn-t-your-typical-tech-disruption/)
In 2018 Barclays created their own Agritech in-house team and currently curates Agritech programming across their digital hubs: Eagle Labs. With a vision to “support UK Agriculture to become the most digitally savvy farm force in Europe”, this ongoing project seeks to bring together academia, researchers and start-ups. It’s easy to see why big money is taking notice of this remarkable innovation. The Investment Corporation of Dubai recently invested $203 million into the sector whilst Japanese VC fund Softbank has invested $200 million. Even easier to perceive is how developments in Agritech can benefit us all in times to come - even if we don’t notice this quiet revolution in agriculture.
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