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

For this TechRepublic cover story, Charles McLellan reports on how two UK-based projects are proving the feasibility and value of precision agriculture.

This download provides the magazine version of the article as a free PDF for registered TechRepublic and ZDNet members. The online version of this story is available here.

From the story:

The world’s human population currently stands at around 7.6 billion and is projected to reach 11.2 billion by 2100. We will therefore need a food production and distribution system that can accommodate another 3.6 billion people—ideally while consuming as little additional land and leaving as small an environmental footprint as possible, in order to maintain vital ecosystem services and conserve Earth’s remaining wildlife.

That’s clearly a challenge given that around half of the world’s habitable land is under agriculture of some kind—with a high proportion of this used for livestock farming.

In a widely reported recent study, Poore and Nemecek (2018) note that a shift away from meat and dairy consumption would go a long way towards relieving pressure on agricultural land and reducing environmental impact: “Meat, aquaculture, eggs, and dairy use ~83% of the world’s farmland and contribute 56 to 58% of food’s different emissions, despite providing only 37% of our protein and 18% of our calories.”

Moving to a diet that excludes animal products, say the study’s authors, could reclaim 3.1 billion hectares of global farmland (a 76% reduction), while reducing food’s greenhouse gas emissions by 6.6 billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction), among other environmental benefits.

Of course, it will take time to effect a major shift in dietary preferences–primarily in developed countries–and global land use patterns, although emerging technologies like lab-grown meat may have an increasingly important role to play here.

On the crops side, big advances in production have been made in recent decades, and modern technology is poised to deliver even more.

Download the PDF to read the rest of the story.

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