Hearing things like, “the population is going to grow by one percent each year,” doesn’t sound panic-inducing. In fact, it sounds like normal population growth. But, when you apply one percent to our existing world’s population of more than 7.8 billion people, the magnitude sharpens, and concerns grow. And according to the United Nations, the world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050.
As we look at the future health of our Earth, population growth is not the only concern. In the last decade or so, we have been facing extreme weather. A combination of rising temperatures and severe droughts is beginning to have a detrimental impact on our planet, as well as the agriculture industry.
The majority of damage done to the Earth’s resources is irreversible, and with finite farmland available for food production, that creates some complexity for our industry. That being said, how are we going to even remotely support almost 10 billion people?
Honing in on Sustainable Ag
For years, the agriculture industry has been scrutinized for its contributions to environmental issues. From emissions to water usage, there is no denying that agriculture has played a significant role in contributing to climate change – but it is also an industry that is leading the way in climate-smart efforts.
The agriculture industry plays the biggest role in supporting our growing population. So, it is essentially unrealistic to slow down – instead, we need to build upon the sustainable ag practices that have been put into place and continue to focus on implementing more eco-friendly efforts.
When reflecting on what sustainable ag even means, it can be focused on three key factors:
Water, focusing on both clean and abundant sources. After all, 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, fresh water is not never ending and a resource we simply cannot afford to waste.
Food security, providing food for a growing population and dwindling resources. With the population growing by quite literally the second, we are seeing less and less resources. 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. And without the necessary tools, application risks runoff, waste, and contamination of air, water, and soil.
Stepping in the Right Direction
Consequences of environmental neglect and rapid population are quite evident – and thus, the increasing focus on sustainable alternatives becomes more immediate. It is no longer a topic for the next generation to figure out. And the agriculture industry has already made huge strides in providing the innovative technologies and efforts needed to accommodate the changing world.
Several organizations, like the Green Climate Fund (GCF), have been founded to progress sustainable ag. Policies have shifted focus to implementing restrictions, funding efforts, protecting resources, and encouraging development.
But most importantly, the industry is rapidly adopting technology and other solutions to help drive initiatives ahead. With remote sensing capabilities, data insights are now available to provide indicators on crop health, assist in powering agronomic decisions and help to achieve higher yields, and avoid the overuse of chemicals and water.
Solutions like ag drones and sensors can take it one step further by capturing data throughout the season to tell a story about what’s happening within the field or plot. Doing so can help accelerate research and product development to bring new products to market faster. Products that are designed to meet the growing demands of our world while taking into consideration the finite resources that are available to do so.
Validating Sustainable Ag with Technology
When it comes to sustainability efforts, it isn’t about developing that one-billion-dollar product or project that will solve everything. Yes, there have been recent innovations that have been leaps for off-setting negative side effects. It is about leveraging different tools and resources to validate research and product development.
Current ag technology provides the efficiency and accuracy needed to validate decisions, research, and innovation. And leveraging tools – like precision agriculture – works to combat the challenges we are facing now and in the future.
After all, this isn’t like the movies – saving the world doesn’t fall on the back of one superhero. It comes down to the joint effort of all of us. From sharing practices, results, or ideas to implementing change in our own lives, we need to start making changes before it is too late.