Global population and economic growth pose unique challenges for food production in the coming decades. Today, the global population is roughly 7 billion people, where roughly 1.8 billion are middle class. Most projections point to a world population of 8 billion by 2030, where roughly 5 billion are middle class. This surge in buying power will result in a massive demand for fresh produce and may be the biggest challenge our industry has faced to date. Technology trends will play a central role in addressing this problem. The magnitude and velocity of new technology available is overwhelming!
Satellite imagery and drones that use color, thermal, and infrared imagery help us understand trouble spots in growing locations, so we can take action sooner. Irrigation management systems help determine the optimal moisture levels in soil, resulting in increased yield and water conservation. Recently there have been new approaches to desalination, decreasing the cost dramatically per acre foot. Still with me? New lighting techniques in greenhouses offer a way to increase seedling resistance to fungal disease. Urban farming techniques represent new ways to grow more in nontraditional areas. Robots exist for field use, taking pictures, temperatures, even interacting with the crop by thinning or harvesting, which allows field workers to cover more ground. Whew! Unfathomable amounts of data will be available to help predict growing outcomes. Soon the unit costs for tracking devices like RFID, low energy Bluetooth, or GPS will be cheap enough to track the location and state of all commodities, resulting in safer products and big supply chain efficiencies. DNA is increasingly being used to understand the origin and path from farm to table. Lab testing is becoming easier, cheaper, quicker, and more remote.
As you can see, it is easy to get lost in the noise and pace of it all. Identifying how these technology trends can increase the quality, quantity, and safety of our industry’s fresh product is not only the right thing to do, it will help set growers apart from their competition and help them achieve results for generations to come.
What impact do you see technology having on the produce industry in the upcoming years? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!