What will the future farms look like

Nirlipta Niharika Prusty
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Around 10,000 years ago, humans started farming. In our past, this agricultural revolution was a turning point that enabled individuals to settle, develop and construct. Agriculture, in short, allowed humanity to survive. Roughly 40 percent of our world today is farmland. Spread all over the world, these farmlands are the pieces of a global puzzle we are all facing: how can we feed a balanced diet to every member of a population in the future?

It would take nothing short of a second agricultural revolution to achieve this goal. Expansion and exploitation, feeding people at the expense of trees, animals and water and destabilizing the environment in the process, characterized the first agricultural revolution. Next time around, that is not an option. With predictable seasons and weather patterns, agriculture relies on a stable climate. This means that we will not continue to expand our agricultural property because doing so would first and foremost destroy the environmental conditions that make agriculture possible. Instead, the next agricultural revolution would have to improve the long-term productivity of our current farmland while protecting biodiversity, maintaining water and reducing waste and emissions of greenhouse gases.

So, what will the future farms look like? Imagine this, a fleet of drones that monitors the land below. The farm that intertwines crops and livestock with wild habitats may look haphazard but is delicately engineered to allow sustenance. Conventional farming methods cleared large swathes of land and planted them with a single crop, eradicating wildlife and emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases in the process. This approach aims to correct that damage. Meanwhile, switching between the crops, in targeted doses, teams of field robots apply fertilizers. Hundreds of sensors collect data on nutrients and water levels from within the soil. This data decreases excessive water usage and informs farmers where, instead of causing waste, they can spread more and less fertilizer by showering it around the entire field.

But not all sensors and robotics will be the farms of the future. These innovations are designed to help us grow food, taking into account the dynamics of local environments in a way that works with the environment rather than against it. Lower-cost agricultural practices can also serve the same purposes and are far more available to many farmers. As more farmers accept them, many of these practices are already in use today and stand to have an increasingly significant impact.

It will take all of these approaches to revolutionize agriculture, from the most high-tech to the lowest-cost. To amplify climate- and conservation-oriented approaches to agriculture, high-tech interventions are available, and large producers will need to invest in implementing these technologies. Meanwhile, for smaller-scale growers, we will have to widen access to the lower-cost methods.

This vision of future agriculture would also entail a global shift towards more diets focused on plants and a significant reduction in food loss and waste, all of which would minimize land demand and allow farmers to do more with what they have at their disposal. We can feed humanity within the environmental limits of the planet if we maximize food production, both on land and at sea, but there is a very limited margin of error, and it will require unparalleled global collaboration and coordination of the agricultural land we have today.