Technological trends in agriculture

ThinkstockTechnological innovations provide us with chances to increase supply, upscale en produce more cost effectively. Robotics could be a solution to the looming shortage of labour in the agricultural sector. In this blog I describe several important technological trends relevant to the agricultural sector.

There are three (possible) technological ‘breakthroughs’ that determine the agricultural sector:

  • Genomics, or technological knowledge on gene activity. Use of genomics offers the possibility for custom applications and solutions, which can help us respond to certain challenges. For example the quality of products, eliminating negative side- effects of food production or producing under specific conditions (drought or salinity).
  • Microsystems and nanotechnology; working with material with a size between 0.1 and 100 nanometres, often at the level of individual atoms. Practical applications range from new processing and production procedures, new “delivery systems” that effectively deliver additives in the right place in the body, to the field of packaging and logistics, such as preservatives, signalling packaging, and, finally, intelligent sensors for various substances.
  • ICT is a technological development needed to support and develop other technological developments.

These three breakthrough technologies can be divided into sub trends:

  1. Biobased Economy: the use of biomass for non-food products and production of biofuels. Especially the production of algae biomass seems promising and could lead to shifts in land use between crops. Also, the efficiency of forest, nature and manure could be significantly increased. Furthermore, the technology to reduce the use and dependence on fossil fuels will most likely be further applied in the agricultural sector.
  2. Robotics: a huge worldwide trend, especially the development of robots in combination with information exchange (between people, sensors, computers, machines, etc.).  Shortage of labour in the agricultural sector could rapidly lead to an acceleration of the application of robotics.
  3. ThinkstockPrecision-agriculture: triad sensors, intelligent networks and robots will allow customized solutions, e.g. crop protection agents, which are used only where they are needed. This is a combination of ICT, genomics and sensor and identification technology.
  4. Aquaculture: provides opportunities to meet the global demand for fish and tackle the problem of overfishing. The Netherlands play a leading role with its expertise in the field of aquaculture in closed systems. The production of fish feed is also very important herein.
  5. ‘Artificial meat’ and ‘meat substitutes’: expected to cause an incremental change over a period of 15-20 years. In other cultures, the consumption of insects is already substantial. In the Netherlands and other Western countries, production of insects and meat substitute is still considered a more ‘alternative circuit’, but seems to be gaining popularity.
  6. Logistics and production chain efficiency: these are important for developments in the field of diversification and customization production to be successful. There will be new transport and packaging technology available, for example, replacement of air transport by sea transport and replacement of inventory and transhipment through ‘exactly in time and on place’ deliveries.
  7. Emissions: precision-agriculture provides the technology to reduce emissions. Especially the emissions to soil, water and air by eutrophication, pesticides, dust, ammonia and greenhouse gases are a problem in the Netherlands. The emission reduction technologies are as yet accompanied by an increase in energy use, though there might be improvement in sight.
  8. Animal welfare and public health: many technologies from genomics, ICT, nanotechnology and sensors provide opportunities for structural improvements in diagnosis and control of animal diseases and the development of more robust animals. Especially durable disease control is necessary for a society where citizens are in contact with the countryside and food production.

This post was published in Dutch on my website SilkeDeWilde.com

Sources:

Technological scenario’s, Animal Sciences Group Wageningen UR, 2009

About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
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