Over the last century, the global population has quadrupled, from
1.8 billion people in 1915 to 7.3 billion today – and it’s still growing. This growth has caused an increase in demand for food, which is expected to grow 70 percent by 2050. Farmers
worldwide will need to increase crop production to feed this growing population. For some countries, this will be easier than for others.
China’s growing population, combined with the rise of middle class consumers demanding more vegetables, pork, beef, and milk, is creating a food crisis. China
eats about 20 percent of the world’s food, but has only nine percent of the world’s farmland. Much of China’s land is not suitable for farming, either consumed by factories or polluted by chemicals and waste. In 2013, China combatted this problem with the
largest land lease ever, leasing 3 million hectares (11,500 square miles) of Ukrainian land – roughly 5 percent of Ukraine.
Leasing farmland from Ukraine may help China in the near term, but global food demand will continue to rise. Asia, Africa, and South America are forecasted to add another 2 billion people in the next generation and the amount of arable land is
decreasing courtesy of shifting climates and industrialization. We need to find a way to feed over 9 billion people with ever decreasing farmland.
Technology is the answer
Farmers need to get more food out of every acre of available land. Luckily, the technology now exists to significantly increase farming efficiency.
- Drones can be used to gather a variety of image-based data about the
condition of crops, enabling precision farming. Drone surveys provide greater exactness than alternatives such as manned scouting, aircrafts, and satellites for evaluating crop health. Drones take centimeter-level images that reveal much more detail about
a crop’s condition, including plant height, plant count, plant health, presence of disease, presence of weeds, and presence of nutrients. Drones can scan an entire field, whether it is five acres or 5,000, finishing in hours what would historically take weeks,
and deliver earlier detection of weeds, pests, and other abnormalities so farmers can quickly take corrective action.
- Sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) can increase farm yields. Sensors embedded throughout farms indicate where soil is moist, eroded, or lacking nutrients, so farmers can immediately and properly treat soil to encourage crop growth. Sensors
monitor crop health, indicating where crops are thriving and where they are not, and send signals to farm equipment which uses the data to automatically apply fertilizer and pesticides—just the right amount and exactly where the chemicals are needed – encouraging
growth and increasing crop yields.
- Advanced analytic tools take the data from sensors and drones to accurately predict the quality, quantity, and timing of harvests. Armed with continuous data about crops, farmers can better predict when to harvest and the quality and quantity of
crop yields. They can proactively manage every step of the value chain, securing the most efficient and cost-effective transportation and ensuring food reaches the right destination quickly, feeding more people.
The global food crisis is not going away. Farmers that invest in new technology can increase production and help alleviate the pressure.