Earth Day sparks the conversation surrounding environmental issues; for one day, people add more eco-friendly practices to their routine. Whether it be a no-power day at work or more conscious recycling, it’s a day where we are all a little more cautious of our actions.
Now, in agriculture, Earth Day isn’t just a one and done day.
It is not a secret that agriculture directly impacts the environment both positively and negatively, but as the industry evolves to support the growing population while putting sustainability first, it’s clear there are some tried and true methods to support our earth each and every day.
Environmental Concerns Facing the Ag Industry
Over the past several decades, we’ve learned more about how agriculture impacts our environment and contributes to climate change; but the industry has also advanced its technologies and adopted new methods to support broader sustainability initiatives.
In a previous blog post, we highlighted three key factors: that are core to sustainability success:
Water, focusing on providing both clean and plentiful sources. Especially since agriculture is the industry leader in water consumption – using 70% of the world’s freshwater. Crops need water, animals need water, we need water. However, since fresh water is not never ending, it is a resource we simply cannot afford to waste.
Food security, maintaining the rising demand for food due to the growing population while offsetting the dwindling resources. With the population growing by quite literally the second, we are seeing less and less resources (including available farmland). Not only is farmland being bought up by non-farming investors, but it is being taken over by residential and developed areas. This combination of dwindling land and resources makes it difficult to provide the food security we so desperately need.
Emissions, minimizing pollutants and finding more Earth-friendly solutions to combat agronomic challenges. By using fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and other hazardous chemicals, it is crucial to avoid overusing or misuse in general. Without the necessary tools, application risks runoff, waste, and contamination of air, water, and soil while wasting your time and money.
Regenerative Agriculture: Is it Working?
The core of agriculture is soil, so focusing on optimizing soil quality in eco-friendly ways is going to promote sustainability. When we are faced with concerns surrounding the world food crisis, it is essentially agriculture’s role to step up and find fast-acting and long-lasting solutions. This starts with optimizing soil health and quality primarily because productivity has a strong correlation with soil – meaning that when we see these high-quality soils, we are also experiencing higher yields in the area.
And one way of promoting higher quality soil is through regenerative agriculture. Variations of regenerative ag have been around for centuries and is by no means a new concept. Even so, the latest movement has brough some controversy. However, on the fundamentals are core to what technology and new products are designed to do:
- Nurturing and restoring soil
- Protecting the climate, water resources, and biodiversity
- Enhancing farms’ productivity and profitability
As we think about some of the newer biologicals on the market, or even the technology that can now be used to measure soil health, regenerative ag finds a place in many of the areas of agriculture.
With the goal being to optimize soil health and fertility, adopting practices like regenerative ag will play a significant role in accomplishing this. After all, to meet global food productivity demands, while accommodating for finite farmland and current soil quality issues, this focus is required to drive productivity forward.
Technology for the Future
Sustainability has become quite the buzzword throughout nearly every industry as the demand for more environmentally friendly and reactive solutions increases. But what sets agriculture apart is that sustainability isn’t just a word or trend, it is a vital part of our foundation and future.
We hear time and time again that ag drone systems provide more efficient methods while utilizing less resources but what are some other impacts of this technology in terms of sustainability? With the insights provided by aerial imagery, we can:
- Better inform boots-on-the-ground scouting, pinpointing problem areas faster and more precisely
- Focus time where it matters, analyzing data, validating outcomes, and powering agronomic decisions
- Gain detailed insights, identifying what is needed and where
This combination can result in lowered inputs, higher productivity, and decrease our impact on the environment.
A common concern surrounding agriculture is our usage of inputs like herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, and even water. There is always a concern of overuse, runoff, waste, and other forms of contamination that have a negative impact on the surrounding environment.
But with innovations (i.e., precision agriculture, ag drone systems, artificial intelligence), we can pinpoint problem areas and better guide input application – reducing product used, decrease costs, and minimize the risk of impacting surrounding water supplies, residential areas, and other at-risk areas. This technology can also be used for advanced insights, like understanding which weed species populate in an area of the field to provide focused weed treatment in that particular area.
And, with the use of artificial intelligence tools, it goes beyond that. It can help to inform decisions by generating data – like turning high-resolution aerial imagery into plant-level measurements – that can support the ag research and product development lifecycle.
Understanding which seed traits perform better in today’s climate, or knowing which product performs better under select conditions, can significantly reduce product development cycles and help us get proven products in the hands of growers, faster.
We will continue to see these technologies, like AI, play a critical role in maintaining the demands of the growing population. But what will look different is their functionality that will continue to adapt to new challenges and demands facing the industry. Artificial intelligence proves its value time and time again; as it further develops and becomes adopted, we will hopefully see productivity soar.
While we have already made significant progress, there is still a ton of work to be done in terms of building a sustainable future for agriculture. With a big concern surrounding agriculture being decreasing resources (including farmland), there need to be significant advancements in technology to keep up with rising demands associated with the growing population.
And agriculture is continuously innovating and evolving to meet the demands and combat challenges facing the industry. So, it’s safe to say there are some exciting technologies to look forward to in the coming years – especially as AI and precision ag continue to have a presence in the industry.