By 2050, the global consumption of food will have tripled to accommodate the world population, expected to grow by 50%. At the same time, individual consumption will more than double in some areas due to the increase of income per capita in the emerging markets’ rising middle classes. On the other hand, 900 million people will still suffer from starvation or insufficient food availability.
When it comes to providing food for the world, there are a number of critical factors that affect production. The most pressing of these are the availability of land, the accessibility of water and sustainability in agriculture.
Only 11% of our planet’s land is considered arable, meaning that it is fit for growing crops. In addition, the increasing occurrences of natural disasters such as catastrophic droughts and floods impact the availability of usable land. Further complicating this problem is soil degradation, including erosion and nutrient loss, which causes an estimated 20% decline in food production in the world’s most fertile areas every year. With regard to water, only about 1% of Earth’s water resources are available for human consumption as fresh water; the remaining 99% is saltwater in oceans or frozen at the poles. This 1% of fresh water is divided in terms of its usage, 70% of which is used for irrigation, 20% for industry and less than 10% for general use by the population. Additionally, only a portion of this water is recovered, between 30% and 60%. Another important point to note is that of sustainable growth in food production. It is essential to stimulate sustainable production in agriculture and livestock to preserve the environment and, consequently, forests and biodiversity.
While the challenges related to producing food for the world are enormous, technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in providing the solutions. For years Hexagon and our global network of brands have been developing solutions for the agriculture industry, specifically focused on increasing productivity, reducing waste and optimising processes and resources.
Hexagon is currently working on the development of a solution to not only optimise the utilisation of land and water, but also fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and other farming resources. It is a collaborative effort between Intergraph®, Leica Geosystems and Z/I Imaging, and is focused on increasing automation, effectiveness and efficiency in the agriculture industry to improve yield while saving costs.
Leica Geosystems has long been a leader in the machine control field, automating farm equipment such as tractors via guidance systems for agriculture. By adding Intergraph’s GIS and imagery analysis capabilities, the process can be further refined, allowing farmers in the field to fine-tune management of the crops. Furthermore, through the use of Z/I Imaging’s powerful airborne photogrammetry solutions, farmers can have access to sophisticated maps that illustrate which areas have already been seeded to help prevent over-seeding. This information can be used to develop a history of the crop yield, enabling farmers to decide how each crop or area should be treated individually.
The same methodology can also be applied to water usage, fertilization and fuel consumption, giving the crops just the right amount of what they need, thereby improving both yield and cost savings while eliminating waste. At the same time, high-yield agriculture with optimised processes helps reduce the amount of grasslands and forests that must be cleared for farming. This reduces the amount of biomass burned and the greenhouse gas emissions that result from such clearings, which helps to slow the pace of global warming. Looking ahead, some researchers estimate that the optimisation of processes can reduce the amount of nutrients used by more than 50% while still increasing crop yield, boosting productivity by four times.
These are just a few examples of how Hexagon’s integrated technologies will work together to benefit the industry. In sum, automating the food production process helps increase productivity, reduce waste and optimise processes and resources so that farmers and workers can make smarter agricultural decisions.
Developing high-tech products for high-yield agriculture to help to feed the planet – that’s shaping change.
Chief Technology Officer