Patrick Crehan, Crehan, Kusano & Associates sprl, Brussels,
Director, Club of Amsterdam
TTF2035 Part 1 A new report from Ireland explains how technologies will
transform food and agriculture between now and 2035
Teagasc (pronounced CHA GOSK), the agency that provides research,
training and advisory services to the agri-food industry in Ireland,
has recently completed a technology foresight exercise entitled
Technology Foresight 2035.
final report addresses one of
the most significant challenges that the sector will face in the
coming years. Namely how to achieve the high levels of growth
needed to ensure security of food and nutrition, while reducing
the impact of the sector on the environment and climate change.
Ultimately the ability of the sector to grow over the coming decades,
providing high quality jobs and prosperity to those it employs,
is increasingly constrained by its ability to reduce waste, green-house
gas emissions and more generally its impact on climate and the
environment. New technologies are needed that will enable the
sector to grow while respecting the environment and help it meet
its obligations in terms of climate change.
The report identifies new areas for future research that can help
the sector achieve these goals. It outlines the immediate steps
that Teagasc will take to establish the new activities needed
to make it all happen.
In terms of technology, the report emphasises the role that a
number of imminent technology revolutions could play, as enablers
of new systems for the management of production and processing,
distribution, retail and consumption. In the case of consumption
this means new value added personalised product and service concepts
responding to consumer needs in terms of convenience, lifestyle,
health and nutrition.
These technology revolutions are going on in at least three areas,
the first being in genetics and molecular biology. A genetic revolution
is being driven in part by advances in obtaining detailed genetic
at high-speed and low-cost, along with the phenotypic data needed
to understand how genetics in combination with a range of other
factors such as environment and nutrition, determine the performance
of production systems, their susceptibility to disease and their
response to stress. This new and more profound understanding of
biological systems at the molecular level genetics is accompanied
rapid progress in a large number of new techniques for enhancing
the performance of commercially important plants and animals to
create new breeds and varieties or to improve the function of
existing breeds and varieties in terms of health, production and
impact on the environment.
The second area of ongoing revolution is in our ability to understand
and manage important micro-biota. This refers to the many complex
communities of micro-organisms that inhabit human skin, teeth
and digestive systems, the rumens of cows, the bacteria, fungi
and microscopic worms that inhabit our soils, and the many microscopic
organisms that inhabit the spaces in which we live and work. These
are too complex and varied to study at the level of individual
organisms, but they can now be studied collectively using techniques
such as whole biome sequencing. As a result we are beginning to
see the essential role they play in general physical and mental
health, in the occurrence of allergies and food intolerances,
their importance for digestion, their role in food conversion
efficiency and green-house gas emissions of farm animals, their
role in the nitrogen cycle of soils and in plant nutrition plants.
We have only started to understand the importance of these and
the essential role they play in healthy biological systems. Over
the next 10 to 20 years we expect our understanding to grow to
the point where we can really use this knowledge to move agricultural
production as well as plant, animal and human nutrition onto a
whole new level of performance.
These three false-color images demonstrate the
application of remote sensing in precision agriculture: The left
image shows vegetation density and the middle image presence of
water (greens / blue for wet soil and red for dry soil). The right
image shows where crops are under stress, as is particularly the
case in fields 120 and 119 (indicated by red and yellow pixels).
These fields were due to be irrigated the following day.
The third main area that is ripe for revolution is in the application
of information and communication technology in farming, food production,
distribution retail and consumption. Key concepts include big-data,
data analytics and automation, applied to the daily routine of
farm-work an agricultural production, to decision making concerning
key tasks such as breeding, nutrition, animal and plant health,
the management of farm enterprises and the production of environmental
goods and services. All of this is being enabled by the ease of
deployment of systems using networks of robust low-energy or even
no-energy, low-cost sensors based on nano-technologies, connected
to data bases and decision-support systems connected to each other
and to farm via the "Internet of Farm Things"
or even the "Internet of Living Things". The
IoLT refers to a system that connects not only man-made machines
and devices but animals and nature itself through sensors that
continuously and cheaply monitor the health status of animals
and their behaviour in terms of consumption, production and readiness
for breeding, the health status of plants their yield, nutritional
needs and response to stress, as well as the health of the environment
and its auditable output in terms of ecological and environmental
goods and services.
In addition to these three areas of applied technology, the report
also describes new and interesting developments in the area of
food processing, as well as new systems and services that will
steadily integrate the agri-food sector into the circular bio-economy.
Altogether the report identifies 5 major areas for technology
driven transformation of the sector. We will have a look at each
of these in turn in future extensions of this article on the results
of Teagasc Technology Foresight 2035.
Disclaimer: The author was employed by Teagasc to assist in
the development of the Teagasc Technology Foresight 2035 initiative.
Nevertheless the views expressed in this article remain those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the client.
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