Improvements in the agricultural sector
Farmers and agricultural experts around the country have broadly welcomed the appointment of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. In his time as governor, Perdue recognized the importance of farming and agriculture to the state’s economy and the importance of trade to farmers. He was always willing to listen to their concerns and there are high hopes that he will continue to fight their corner in Washington.
But Perdue’s appointment is not the only significant improvement in American agriculture in recent times. In fact we are in the midst of a quiet revolution in farming methods that promises to be at least as far-reaching as the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1950s and 1960s, providing a much-needed increase in farming yields to meet the growing food needs not just of America, but of the world.
The main challenge facing the agricultural sector today is how to maximize production yields while minimizing the environmental footprint of the industry. Globally, this boils down to how to feed a rapidly growing population when no further land is available to be given over to crops or animal husbandry. Science and technology are our best tools to make this transition, but bring with them concerns over environmental pollution, depleted resources and the uncertainty surrounding processes like genetic modification.
Nevertheless, the question is urgent. A 2009 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization suggested that agriculture production would have to increase by 70% by 2050 to meet rising demand. At the same time, the percentage of the population working in the agricultural sector continues to fall worldwide. In the US, the figure is just 2%.
The needs of American agriculture are increasingly being meet by large multinational firms, and it is apparent that all within the sector have to think globally in order to meet the challenges ahead. In India, Jai Shroff is the CEO of UPL Ltd, developing sustainable and affordable agriculture products such as fumigants, herbicides, insecticides and so on. He is also vice chair of the seed development company Advanta. This multi-strand approach to meeting farmers’ needs, combined with a visionary approach to technological and environmental solutions, results in a holistic view of agriculture that extends beyond national boundaries.
The curse of a farmer’s lot is uncertainty: reliance on weather conditions and other variable factors means that every harvest is equivalent to an all-or-nothing gamble. Smart farming aims to reduce that uncertainty as much as possible by using technology to predict as accurately as possible the outcome of any given action. Smart farming, or precision farming, is as significant a step forward as the mass mechanization of agriculture in the early 20th Century or the Green Revolution 20-30 years later.
High-density soil sampling, improved fertilizers, computer-controlled hydroponic systems and sophisticated genetic manipulation are among the techniques for improving yields in a cost-effective and labor-intensive fashion. These technologies can also help to reduce the environmental impact of farming and improve animal welfare by careful electronic monitoring.
The future of farming must become more reliable and more strictly controlled. Science, technology and better approaches to business can help this to become a reality.
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