Now, when you think about the food we eat, you MIGHT not think engineering has much to do with it but with a growing population, to produce the food we need, we’re taking more from the soil and using more natural resources.
New technologies can play a significant role in making agriculture and food production more sustainable! So let’s run down some real-life examples of how agriculture experts are using technology.
Something you might have heard of is genetically modified – or GM crops.
Genetically Modified simply means something whose genetic material – that’s its DNA – has been altered in a way that wouldn’t happen naturally.
In the past, scientists might have introduced DNA from one species to another. Today, they use what’s called editing techniques, which means they change the host DNA. This is “genetic engineering” as opposed to “genetic modification”.
Modified and engineered crops can be designed to be more resistant to pests and diseases, reducing the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides. Or they might be engineered to be drought-resistant, reducing the need for irrigation and helping water conservation.
Of course, there are ethical considerations that engineers and scientists need to take into account…
Changing DNA in the food we eat might have a negative effect on other parts of the food chain. For example, the expansion of GM herbicide-tolerant corn and soy, which are twinned with herbicides, has destroyed much of the habitat of the monarch butterfly in North America.
As engineered crops are likely to be created by big technology companies, farmers might be forced to pay a higher price for their seeds. And in parts of the world, subsistence farmers might not be able to afford to farm anymore.
So there’s a lot to think about.
A less controversial development is something called Precision Agriculture. Farmers use precision technology, like drones, sensors and GPS mapping, to more accurately monitor and manage their crops. These can help irrigation, fertilisation, pest control, as well as harvesting.
And alongside these precision machines, automated systems and even robots are being developed to help with many tasks – from planting and harvesting to weed control, increasing efficiency and reducing labour costs – although that will mean the jobs people do in farming will have to change.
Vertical farming uses controlled environment agriculture technology to grow crops using indoor stacked systems, which reduces how much land is needed. And this can be particularly useful in urban areas where land is scarce and traditional agriculture is not possible.
Cows, pigs, sheep, chickens… you name it – they’re a massive part of the food chain – well, unless you’re vegetarian or vegan!
Animal welfare is a big issue and livestock farmers are using technology such as wearable sensors and monitoring systems to check on the health and well-being of their animals and reduce disease outbreaks.
This in turn can help reduce the need for animals to be given large amounts of antibiotics which run the risk of making those drugs less effective throughout the food chain – and for us!
An even greater challenge for livestock farmers is the impact that livestock has on the planet. Did you know, it’s estimated that cows generate 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 each year. That is a very large figure. But there’s an amazing new development that might just help us meet the challenge of reducing those emissions…
Lab grown meat
Cultivated meat is another technology that’s being developed to provide a more sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional livestock farming. Animal cells are grown in controlled environments to produce meat, eliminating the need for raising and slaughtering animals. This helps reduce the environmental impact of meat production, as it eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, reduces land use and conserves water.
There’s no perfect solution to the problem – but cultivated meat can look and taste pretty similar to the real thing, and other types of mam-made foods are being developed, so it’s certainly an innovative way to tackle the problem.Add a comment