5 ways IBM will transform farming by 2024

With the global population rising to 8 billion, IBM is using AI and IoT devices to meet demands in food production and safety.

Agriculture 4.0: How digital farming is revolutionizing the future of food The next step in feeding the world's rapidly growing population involves self-driving tractors, precision farming, and Internet of Things sensors to quantify agriculture in vast new ways.

By 2024, the Earth's population will total more than 8 billion for the first time in history, adding new stresses on the global supply chain, which is already challenged by a volatile climate and water supply shortages. To meet future food demands, IBM researchers are working on solutions that tap artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-connected devices at every step of the food supply chain, according to a Monday blog post.

"Our researchers inspire us to imagine what else could be possible five years from now," Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of IBM Cloud & Cognitive Software, wrote in the post. "When the eight billionth person is born on Earth, she will enter a world more connected, more interdependent and more responsive to change than the one her parents ever imagined. This is the future that awaits us all."

SEE: Smart farming: How IoT, robotics, and AI are tackling one of the biggest problems of the century (cover story PDF)

Here are five predictions for the future of farming, based on projects IBM is working on, according to the post:

1. Farming digital twins

By 2024, digital twins of all farmland, farming activity, and farming resources will be available to growers, farming equipment suppliers, food distributors, departments of agriculture and health, banks and financial institutions, and humanitarian organizations. This will allow all groups to share resources, and increase crop yields and food security, at a lower environmental cost, the post said.

2. Blockchain for food supply

Adding blockchain into the food supply chain will help eliminate costly unknowns in the process, according to the post. The technology, along with IoT devices and AI algorithms, will allow every participant in the supply chain, from farmers to grocery suppliers, to know exactly how much to plant, order, and ship, which will minimize waste and increase the freshness of produce on store shelves.

SEE: How self-driving tractors, AI, and precision agriculture will save us from the impending food crisis (cover story PDF)

3. Microbiome mapping

By 2024, food safety inspectors will be able to use millions of microbes to protect the food supply, IBM predicted. While microbes are often introduced into foods at farms, factories, and grocery stores, IBM has a new technique allowing researchers to analyze their genetic makeup for less money, which can help determine if the food is safe to consume.

4. AI for detecting food contaminants

In the next five years, everyone from farmers to home cooks will be able to detect dangerous contaminants in their food using a cell phone or countertop equipped with AI sensors, according to the post. IBM researchers are currently working on portable AI sensors that can detect foodborne pathogens, which could increase the speed of a pathogen test from days to seconds. This would help detect E. coli or Salmonella before it becomes an outbreak.

5. Transforming recycling

Recycling, trash disposal, and the creation of new plastics will look entirely different by 2024, according to IBM.

"Everything from milk cartons to cookie containers to grocery bags and cheese cloths will be recyclable, and polyester manufacturing companies will be able to take in refuse and turn it into something useful," according to the post. "This transition will be powered by innovations like VolCat, a catalytic chemical process that digests certain plastics (called polyesters) into a substance that can be fed directly back into plastic manufacturing machines in order to make new products."

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Image: IBM

By Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.