Articles

Future Crops – Shaping the Agriculture of Tomorrow

Published on February 4, 2019
Written by Jack Manzoor

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…’

Articles

Future Crops – Shaping the Agriculture of Tomorrow

Vertical Farming

Food Production

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…’

Although ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ uses the backdrop of ‘Revolution and Terror’ Dickens could have been equally referring to the challenges we face today in agriculture. The global population is growing at an unprecedented rate; environmental degradation due to pollution is adversely affecting our planet, which in turn puts tremendous pressure on food production.

According to most estimates, our global population is set to grow to circa 10 billion by 2050. According to a report from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (June 2017) they calculated that the world population is growing by 83 million people per year. To put this into context it is larger than the entire population of Germany.

What does this all mean? On first sight, the picture is both bleak and ominous. The end of the Industrial Revolution did not see the end of continued urbanization. Food scarcity, dwindling levels of freshwater availability and poor yielding farm crops is pushing humankind to the brink. What worked in the 20th century for farming is no longer economically viable today. As they say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ and a new solution is required, that is sustainable and caters for a far more discerning type of consumer.

AgTech

The global agriculture sector contributes $3.2 trillion annually to global output and employs about 1 billion people. The venture capitalists and some of the richest net worth individuals on the planet are putting their hard-earned cash into the AgTech sector. What exactly is AgTech? Definitions vary, however as the name implies it is the marriage of technology to best agricultural and management practice. Data collection and data analytics is the real game changer and businesses who most readily turn those insights into meaningful actions will drive a larger market share. In base terms, it’s a land grab for disrupters who are willing to gamble that a viable solution in agriculture can both satisfy consumer expectations and show respect for our planet, by operating in a long-term sustainable manner.

Consumer Expectations

The rules of the game have changed. Consumer’s expectations are driving the agenda. Whilst social media platforms provide consumers with a voice that may shape marketing and product development, consumers do not control brands. That said, the most potent negative effect on a brand’s P&L is diminishing sales and in this respect, consumers are challenging the value proposition. Retailers who understand this equation and respond in kind will enjoy a far greater ROI on their marketing spend.

Sustainable food production that preserves our precious resources, respects nature and delivers clean, fresh produce with full traceability will over time become the minimum expectation for consumers. As we reach this tipping point, retailers who fail to respond may end up as case studies and be part of the syllabus for future business and marketing students.

Vertical Farming

What is vertical farming? There is no one definitive definition. However, in the most basic terms vertical farming usually refers to the practice of producing food in stacked layers, utilizing indoor farming techniques within a uniquely controlled environment. Technology acts as an enabler controlling many factors including (but not limited to), humidity, daylight hours, temperature, water usage, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Sophisticated software coupled with scientific expertise ensures each plant benefits from optimal conditions. As a result, many vertical farms are zero free from pesticides or biological agents.

In essence, vertical farms are data driven agricultural best practice. By controlling and monitoring every possible parameter, vertical farms can deliver far greater efficiencies, promote accurate agriculture and by definition reduce waste. It is an iterative process with shorter lead times underpinned by data analytics, supporting informed decision-making.

Vertical Farms come in many shapes and sizes and each has a nuanced approach. Back in July 2018, ‘Interesting Engineering’ listed ‘thirteen types of vertical farming innovations that could revolutionize agriculture.

Future Crops

We have set ambitious targets at Future Crops and we are shaping the agriculture of tomorrow. Unlike most vertical farms, all of our products are grown directly from the soil, exactly as nature intended. We believe nature’s way is best.

At the heart of what we do are our passionate agronomists. Highly skilled with boundless energy, they work tirelessly to ensure each plant can grow to its full potential. We do this by offering VSPO, (Vertical Single Plant Optimization) an advanced, fully automated system for crops grown in climate-controlled multi-layer buildings. As a result, we can grow selected crops anywhere in the world, at any time of the year that are superior and consistent in both quality and yield. Controlling the whole value chain from seeding to packaging ensures that the provenance of each product can be easily tracked.

Our agronomists are part of a much larger team, which includes world-renowned herb researchers and agricultural experts garnered from our dynamic partnership with the Agriculture Research Organization (ARO) – one of the world’s leading agricultural institutes.

Research and Development

Research and Development (R&D) is an inherent part of our DNA. It is the key to our competitive advantage and the reason why our R&D center is in-house. We significantly invest in R&D to push the limits of agro-science. For example, we are building the future with our unique proprietary seed development program. With specially designed testing labs and a dedicated team of researchers, the Future Crops Tailor-Made program offers the opportunity to develop and run experiments for specific crops in collaboration with our customers, to solve (as partners) key agricultural challenges. We experiment with new crops and develop engineering solutions every day.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to create it

Almost two years ago, NASA’s website ran an interesting article that caught the eye for many, ‘NASA Plant Researchers Explore Question of Deep-Space Food Crops’.

Fast forward to today and we have Virgin Galactic competing with Blue Origin and SpaceX to see who will be the first to achieve space tourism.

Tourists have to be fed and clearly the limiting factor for any human journey is food resource. Vertical farming today can solve many of the challenges associated with space travel as its principles can be easily adapted to fit inside a space shuttle or on a much larger scale, be placed on Mars, as a gateway to the rest of the cosmos. Closer to home and far more pressing are the challenges we face today on our own planet. Food scarcity, climate change, population growth, crop disease and low levels of freshwater are a clear and present danger to world stability.

Vertical farms offer a viable panacea. By simulating specific seasons, vertical farms can ensure optimal conditions for almost any crop to flourish. Arguably and perhaps of far more importance is the unique ability for vertical farms to operate within the most harsh and unforgiving terrains imaginable. From the Sahara to Siberia and eventually, to infinity and beyond.

Fruit Logistica, Berlin

Come and visit us at Fruit Logistica, Berlin to explore what we do. You can meet Rossella, Guy and Gary. I will be there too.

Alternatively, join the debate on our stand in Berlin about which country creates the ‘best’ cuisine. Faced with an Italian, Israeli and Belgian they can only agree on one thing. Their opinion on English food!

Jack Manzoor