The world’s population is set to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050, according to the UN’s latest projections. This means that food production has to stay in step. But current estimates are staggering; with forecasts suggesting we need to grow 70% more than we do today.
This has got commentators from Esquire magazine to The Economist worried. The concern is that not only are current farming methods too inefficient to meet demand, but too much land is being used which has further negative consequences, such as deforestation, and over-crowding in cities. There are other environmental concerns too, such as new crop diseases, desertification, salinization, and soil erosion.
Some have taken the projections to the extreme suggesting the world as we know it will end by 2100, or that we’ll be engaged in food riots, based on models that measure how fast we use up the Earth’s finite resources.
But this need not be the time to sell everything and go on a hedonistic journey of discovery, nor build a bunker fit for a nuclear winter. M2M technology is changing what’s possible with farming, so much so that people have coined the Internet of Food to capture all advances in technology under one banner.
Farms are starting to connect their crops and livestock to networks using M2M technology. In Napa Valley, wine makers are using sensors powered by solar energy to monitor the hydration levels of their vines, while in Fukushima, Fujitsu has turned a clean room that was previously used to make semiconductor chips, into a state-of-the-art lettuce farm. Here, sensors feed temperature, humidity, and fertilizer data into cloud databases where the numbers are crunched to create the optimal atmospheric conditions for the lettuce to grow. Sensors can also be used to mitigate problems such as soil erosion and unwanted fungus that reduces crop yields.
Smart farming, though still in its infancy, is showing real promise. Cattle ranchers are beginning to monitor their herd for possible signs of lameness and disease through GPS tracking. This way if a cow is lying down, or away from the herd, a common sign that something is wrong, a message will be sent to farmers allowing them to help sooner. SAP Digital Farming is bringing together sensors, software and analytics to measure nutrients, moisture and weather. This means farmers can now monitor their crops in real-time. We’re also doing our bit, supporting a pilot that effectively targets a mite that is devastating the world’s honey bee population.
Government bodies, private firms and venture capitalists are paying increasing attention to the problem of global food security. Hopefully, they will be able to use technology to solve the inefficiencies of today’s methods, and also tackle other pressing food-related issues, like the double burden of malnutrition and food distribution.
The Internet of Food may be some way off, but it does hold a lot of promise. What would you like to see M2M technology do in farming? Let us know either on Twitter @Gemalto or in the comments section below.