Technology in agriculture is key to producing food more sustainably in the future. Ryan Archer (BayWa), Alexander Gerfer (Würth Elektronik eiSos) and Marc Oshima (AeroFarms) discuss the potential of controlled environments, vertical farming and positive ecological impact of agritech with Lauren Kiel from Bloomberg Green.
The need for innovation in agriculture is clear, Alexander Gerfer says, as population growth and climate change make feeding soon 9 billion people a huge challenge.
With current farming techniques “we would need additional 2 billion of hectares of farmland”, Gerfer points out. “That would mean the size of China and India, and we don’t have it”.
One solution is vertical farming: growing crops indoors or in high-tech greenhouses.
“This is about, how do we enable local production?”, Marc Oshima explains. “How can we bring the farms to where the people are?”
This is not only more sustainable, he argues, but also brings benefits when “we’re talking about food sovereignty, food resiliency”.
Archer’s BayWa Group showed how tomatoes can be grown year round in the desert near Abu Dhabi, with the help of indoor farming. “In theory, you can grow tomatoes in open field seven months of the year” Archer explains, “but then there’s a five month period in which you can’t, so you need to use technology in order to grow them.”
The same goes for other crops and other parts of the world, Archer says, arguing that vertical greenhouses and technology-driven farming should not be seen as an alternative to local farming, but rather as a supplement.
“What it actually is as a combination”, he says. “You need to have both.”
Importantly, growing fruits and vegetables in a controlled environment is often more sustainable, Gerfer adds.
“We use only a tenth of the water” for indoor tomato farming. “So it’s really bringing down the resources to grow the crops”, with big benefits for mitigating climate change as well. “If you do it right”, Gerfer says, “it can save 90 percent of carbon emissions.”