Josse De Baerdemaeker 2015-02-23 23:31:51
We can start the discussion about feeding the growing world population by noting that the population increase will not be evenly spread across continents, nor will it occur in what are now the most productive areas of the world. We can also expect that the housing requirements for the growing population will be met by occupying some arable land. At the same time, it will be more difficult to bring new land into cultivation because of environmental and climate change concerns, as expressed in many recent studies. Meanwhile, the productivity of available agricultural land faces the challenges of soil erosion, compaction, and degradation, as well as the increasing unpredictability of weather and of water resources. The development of agricultural technology and its deployment in the middle of this century will therefore be based on close cooperation between engineers, agronomists, crop breeders, soil scientists, and farmers. The outcome of this effort will be future production practices that both exploit and increase biodiversity. The technologies will be similar across the globe, but their local implementations will differ. Farmers will also work in close interaction with consumers and interest groups to obtain a license to produce. Traceability of production will mean not only “show us what you did” but also “tell us why you did it.” Crop breeding technology is making rapid progress in resistance to diseases, as well as in resistance to substances that can be used for chemical weed control. Additional breeding programs, using genetic modification or other techniques, will result in highly productive crops by greatly increasing photosynthetic efficiency, creating what some call “turbocharged” crops. These crops may be food or feed, or they may be feedstocks for energy production or green chemicals. Automation in agricultural production will also be a key for sustainability. Different equipment sizes will be chosen based on the job, rather than on the relative size of the farm or field. Because soil conservation implies reducing soil compaction, tramlines with flexible attachments may be used for cultivating large areas. Another possibility is the use of swarms of lightweight, agile machines for planting, crop maintenance, and harvesting. These machines will have access to information on soil type, local microclimate, planting depth and density, and fertilizer treatments. Because the planting schedule will be matched with the treatment and harvest schedules, on-line record keeping will be standard practice. Spatio-temporal crop growth and development will be continuously monitored by satellite or UAVs. Small robots that continuously walk the fields and on-plant monitors will provide additional information on growth conditions and impending diseases, pests, and weeds. These observations will be compared to crop growth models so that corrective actions can be designed and implemented in real time. New pest invasions will become more frequent due to global trade. Harmful pathogens that hide and thrive inside food plants must be detected and eliminated. As a result, sensor networks and spatio-temporal data analysis will be required for optimal crop production. The most important stress sensor is the plant itself, and it is possible to differentiate between different stressors. Breeders will succeed in incorporating gene expression that depends on the stressor and its severity. This may involve a slight change in mechanical or optical properties at different locations on the plant, or odors that are specific to a stressor. In a similar way, weed detection will be improved by incorporating optical characteristics that make weeds easily distinguishable from crop plants and that can be programmed so that volunteer plants (now weeds) are also detected. Using similar methods, weed resistance to chemicals can be detected, and mechanical, thermal, or laserbased weed removal can then proceed. Selective harvesting of crops will be possible with small, agile, autonomous harvesters that are controlled on the basis of information obtained during the growth stage to selectively harvest individual plants with the desired level of maturity and quality. It is unlikely that the same farmer will work the same fields every year. Farmers will specialize in certain crops and achieve crop rotations by exchanging land with other farmers. These crop rotations between farmers will require that accurate soil information, including drainage, water holding properties, and fertilizer inputs, is available in on-line databases. These databases can also include fertilizer or pesticide treatments, spatially variable growth data, and yields of previous crops so that the follow-up farmer can assess the suitability of the land for a subsequent crop and make appropriate decisions for efficient production. This production method will allow specialization of equipment and crop production without exhausting the soil or bankrupting the farmer. Reduction of fossil fuel consumption for food production is a must, and energy crops are one possibility. Producing energy from nonfood feedstocks will not limit food availability. The introduction of nitrogen-fixing plants, either in mixed cultures or by genetic modification, is another part of the solution. Phosphorous can be effectively recovered from waste streams. Crop breeding can improve energy extraction from residues, eliminating the growers’ reliance on distant processing plants. Novel harvesting, storage, and processing technologies that limit food losses and food waste are already in place and available. Given all these technologies, and the future technologies that are now in development, we can look forward to exciting crossdisciplinary activities that will eventually lead to sustainable production of food for all the people of the world. These technologies will contribute to enhanced biodiversity as well as to a flexible response to rapidly changing biotic and abiotic production conditions. ASABE Member Josse De Baerdemaeker, Professor, Department of Biosystems, Division of Mechatronics, Biostatics, and Sensors (MeBioS), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; Josse.DeBaerdemaeker@biw.kuleuven.be. Photos Tombaky | Dreamstime.com.
Published by ASABE. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://bt.e-ditionsbyfry.com/article/Agricultural+Technology+Challenges+for+2050/1937492/247419/article.html.