Food Production Fit For the Future

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IN RE-IMAGINING food for the future, we must focus on understanding and transforming our food production capabilities — a revolution well on its way. The capabilities that are becoming standard for anyone in food production are automation that reframes efficiency; new means of production that reshape our thinking about nutrition; and the smart use of data to record immediate feedback and meet customer needs. In most industries, and agriculture is no exception, automation has typically been viewed as a way to gain greater efficiency from traditional methodologies.

In farming, that has emerged as enhancements to existing technologies. From autonomous machinery and drone-based remote inspection to robotic milking and harvesting — all are accepted as improvements to business as usual. However, rapidly emerging forms of automation are radically reshaping farming.

Iron Ox is a start-up in California focused on embedding robotics into hydroponic indoor farming. Its technology has the potential to reduce repeatable human interactions that comprise most current costs of production.

Efficiency in the future is indoor farms producing leafy greens (and more) in perfect climatic conditions, with limited water, pesticide free, in both urban and rural contexts, with limited human interaction.

And all driven by solar energy, which not only powers the food factory, but enables the farmer to on-sell any excess energy.

Until now, the contribution that farming makes to nutritional wellbeing has been taken for granted. Whether livestock, veg or dairy, fresh has generally equated to healthy.

That too is changing.

Whether it’s due to concerns about meat consumption or pesticide exposure, consumers are becoming more selective about what they consume and why. Emerging businesses such as Beyond Meat and Foodini have launched products that are radically reshaping our relationship with food and the nutrition it provides.

Beyond Meat uses plant-based cells to recreate the molecular structure of meat — meaning the meat-substitute looks, feels and tastes just like the real thing — but is from a different source, not livestock.

Foodini is a 3D-printing kitchen appliance designed for both commercial and domestic markets — giving cooks localised control of their processed foods.

In fact, part of Foodini’s core assertion is that all food is processed in some way, so why not have control of both inputs and outputs?

In a world where data is now being created at an exponential rate, knowing what to collect and how to use it is critical.

Indoor vertical farming company Aerofarms is leading the way with its use of “smart” technologies and data to reset business and operating models. In Aerofarms’ case, real- time feedback data supports continuously refining its system to ensure it gets the best results from its pesticide-free leafy greens.

So, whether you’re moving to enhanced automation, rethinking nutrition or embracing the power of data, you need to keep pace
with the future of food production, and know what to invest in and when.

This article was originally published in Crop Gear, May 2019.

David Platt is co-director of Resilient Futures and co-author of  Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change.

David Platt is co-director of Resilient Futures and co-author of Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change.

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