July 31, 2018 - Comments Off on Defining Agtech: look beyond the farmer’s perspective
Agtech is highlighted as the main step in changing food production to feed our growing population in an efficient, effective and sustainable way. The concept of urban farming is being valued more as food inaccessibility and climate change has grown. Soil degradation, drought and harsh cold weathers have rendered farmers unable to produce as much as they use to. This has forced them to look for alternative ways to continue growing food year-round for local businesses and communities, sustaining production short-term and long-term.
The term agtech refers to transforming the way people grow and eat food through digital technologies to revamp the entire global food system as we know it traditionally. Over the past few years, this industry has exploded, creating a new cohort of urban farmers that leverage futuristic techniques to feed populations. Technology in agriculture is still a relatively new concept as the industry sees increases in tech advancements and integration. The current concept of farming is very much still tied to getting dirty and working directly in the fields to grow foods.
Here we outline a few things people in the food supply chain can do to help improve our system through agtech integration, local eating and reconnecting with the food we eat. The root to growing a sustainable future in eating and farming is to educate everyone on the problems we face (to us personally and to the planet) and collaborating to generate change.
WHAT FARMERS CAN DO
With the futuristic aspect of digital technologies, there’s a common misconception that people are slowly trying to weed out humans in place of automated machinery to do all the work. The future of agtech does not equate to the replacement of humans with robotics. There is plenty of room for human farmers to contribute to bettering the global food system too through using sustainable practices and promoting local eating within communities. This includes selling foods in local farmer markets and using advanced farming tools to streamline farming practices to be eco-friendlier for the environment. One important aspect to keep in mind is that food accessibility is difficult in local eating with seasonality and lack of food transportation. This is where Modular Farms can pose as a good solution with its year- round growing capabilities and mobility. However, businesses cannot simply add and implement digital technologies into existing practices. There needs to be a change in business model and perspective as well. Trust between what the technologies can do for each block of the food chain is extremely important. Education is key to widespread agtech integration within small, medium to large food businesses.
As our CEO Eric Amyot has said previously, “ I’ve always believed vertical farm companies, at least for the foreseeable future, should be focusing on making better labor assistive tools and technologies before jumping to fully-enabled farming robots.” Currently, we are taking a closer look at AI and robotics and learning how we can make the process of vertical farming easier for Growers without replacing them.
WHAT VERTICAL FARMERS CAN DO
Being categorized as an agtech business ourselves, we are proud to say our engineered farming units have contributed to expanding the capabilities of farmers growing foods while increasing food accessibility and decreasing food miles.
At Modular Farms, we also work to make the connection between people and food as visible as possible, whether it be through our urban farmers, our kale delivery system to The Food Dudes or the diners who eat vertical farm-to-table dishes at OMAW or Rasa. We want people to feel connected with their food, understanding when, what, where, how and why something is grown the way it is. “With the vertical farming industry stepping closer into defining itself as an appealing option to grow foods, it must do a better job at honestly communicating the real benefits and challenges it presents before becoming a universal, trusted and commoditized solution,” said CEO Eric Amyot (from Smart Cities Q&A). Thus, vertical farmers must educate the public on the benefits urban agriculture can bring to the table. Vertical farmers should look at the bigger picture to see where they can plug themselves to fill gaps in the food supply chain. With our abilities to grow food virtually anywhere in the world, in any climate, urban farms can be the solution to food deserts and regions suffering from infertile soil or poor weather conditions, helping them to grow healthy foods year-round – regardless of what’s in season. We recognize that for this technology to succeed, our teams need to continue to develop new technologies that will improve energy efficiency, modular-ability, and ability to grow a wider variety of foods. However, by us continuously conducting R&D, we can rethink what we do now to think ahead on how to improve our systems for the better in the future.
WHAT END CONSUMERS CAN DO
As much as the focal point of agtech is being about the farmer, it also subsequently impacts the rest of the food system including, but not limited to, retailers, manufacturers, transporters, chefs, and direct consumers. It is important for all parties to know how technologies can benefit the way we consume food. This is where research and education comes in. Audit what’s in your fridge before heading out to buy more foods. Find out what’s in your food beyond the labels and get in tune with nature. Learn where foods came from, how it’s made and who’s making it. Once a strong connection is made, people can then advocate the need for more economical and sustainable food practices, pushing it to the forefront of social issues.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Climate change is happening now and it’s impacting not just food businesses, but every single person on this planet. Targeting only farmers to help change the global food system is not fundamentally enough. Without understanding the true benefits of how agtech can help sustain the global food system in the long-run, complete adoption of vertical and urban farming techniques will prove to be a difficult process. The change requires all parties of the chain to collaborate with one another. Feeding communities is not a corporate responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Learn more about Autodesk and the space at MaRS at www.autodesk.com/toronto