Our Complicated Relationship with Agriculture
Global agriculture is becoming the most important topic in human, economic, and climate health and longevity, but our perspective of food and where it comes from has a complicated history.
Since the industrial revolution, the ubiquity of food in most developed countries has generally depreciated the respect for the work it takes to get food from the ground to your dinner plate or takeout box. However, as the human population continues to grow and more people rise out of poverty, the demand for higher quality foods and movements like “farm to table” are bringing back the desire for a connection to the origins of our food.
The Future of Food
It’s nearly impossible to discuss food in today’s world without bringing up the challenges our global food system faces. The challenges are many: climate change, world hunger and health, waste management, and sustainability of resources, to name a few.
Global economic growth of over 2.9% annually is allowing citizens of developing countries to escape poverty (less than $1.25 per day) faster than ever. This, of course, should be considered a great achievement for the global society, but the increase of global middle class citizens leads to increase of consumption. It also leads to higher demand for more expensive food like meat products, dairy, and vegetable oils. To feed 10 billion people in 2050, global cereal production (wheat, barley, hay) for both human and livestock consumption would have to increase to 3 billion tons, nearly a 1 billion ton increase from today’s production of 2.1 billion tons.
In order to increase food production while preserving limited resources, technology like artificial intelligence is being applied, and it may very well be able to transform our global food systems.
Transformation in Global Agriculture with AI
Imagine being able to predict the exact amount of water needed, exact time for picking, and exact yield of a tomato crop. It may not seem like a huge feat to the average person, but food waste is one of the biggest issues in the global food system with negative downstream effects on world hunger, carbon emissions, and oceanic pollution.
Globally, we produce enough food to feed everyone in the world over 2,000 calories per day. However, we waste 30-40% of it – out in the field, during distribution, in the trash at home, or in restaurants around the world. AI solutions have the ability to improve efficiency metrics from the fields, down to the supply and demand of food in grocery stores and restaurants. Of course, the technology is still evolving, but it holds a lot of promise.
Dahl Winters is an award-winning researcher and consultant in big data and artificial intelligence. She’s also a former Geospatial Big Data Architect at Monsanto. She writes:
Artificial intelligence has been said to be the new electricity; one could also argue highly for its value in transforming agriculture. With less space on which to feed more people than ever before, we will need AI to make the most of every agricultural field. AI has and will continue to be instrumental in reducing inefficiencies in crop management, especially those concerning fertilizer, water, and pesticide use. The time is ripe for transformation in agriculture to sustain growth in a warming world. AI will be a critical enabler of that transformation.”
When farmers, producers, and distributors in our food system have access to the right data about their crops, we improve efficiencies at every step of the way. We are able to reduce waste, optimize inputs and outputs, and put better, healthier, safer food products in the mouths of consumers.