The Future of Food: How Tech Is Changing Our Food Systems
The urban population is exploding around the globe, and yesterday’s food systems will soon be sub-optimal for many of the megacities swelling with tens of millions of people.
Further, issues like wasted food, poor working conditions, polluted ecosystems, mistreated animals, and greenhouse gases are just some of the concerns that people have about our current supply chains.
Today’s infographic from Futurism shows how food systems are evolving – and that the future of food depends on technologies that enable us to get more food out of fewer resources.
The Next Gen of Food Systems
Here are four technologies that may have a profound effect on how we eat in the future:
1. Automated Vertical Farms
It’s already clear that vertical farming is incredibly effective. By stacking farms on top of another and using automation, vertical farms can produce 100x more effectively per acre than conventional agricultural techniques.
They grow crops at twice the speed as usual, while using 40% less power, having 80% less food waste, and using 99% less water than outdoor fields. However, the problem for vertical farms is still cost – and it is not clear when they will be viable on a commercial basis.
Another technology that has promise for the future of food is a unique combination of fish farming (aquaculture) with hydroponics.
In short, fish convert their food into nutrients that plants can absorb, while the plants clean the water for the fish. Compared to conventional farming, this technology uses about half of the water, while increasing the yield of the crops grown. As a bonus, it also can raise a significant amount of fish.
3. In Vitro Meats
Meat is costly and extremely resource intensive to produce. As just one example, to produce one pound of beef, it takes 1,847 gallons of water.
In vitro meats are one way to solve this. These self-replicating muscle tissue cultures are grown and fed nutrients in a broth, and bypass the need for having living animals altogether. Interestingly enough, market demand seems to be there: one recent study found that 70.6% of consumers are interested in trying lab grown beef.
4. Artificial Animal Products
One other route to get artificial meat is to use machine learning to grasp the complex chemistry and textures behind these products, and to find ways to replicate them. This has already been done for mayonnaise – and it’s in the works for eggs, milk, and cheese as well.
Tasting the Future of Food
As these new technologies scale and hit markets, the future of food could change drastically. Many products will flop, but others will take a firm hold in our supply chains and become culturally acceptable and commercially viable. Certainly, food will be grown locally in massive skyscrapers, and there will be decent alternatives to be found for both meat or animal products in the market.
With the global population rising by more than a million people each week, finding and testing new solutions around food will be essential to make the most out of limited resources.
The Most Valuable Agricultural Commodity in Each State
Which agricultural commodity is the most important to each state’s economy? This infographic breaks it all down, based on data from the USDA.
The Most Valuable Agricultural Commodity in Each State
The United States has an incredible amount of geographic diversity.
From the fertile farmland of the Great Plains to the volcanic islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, each state has been dealt a unique geographical hand.
Each geographical setting can be the source of economic opportunities, such as tourism or the development of natural resources. It also partially dictates what kind of agricultural choices are available for farmers and local economies.
A Higher Level Look
Today’s infographic comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it color codes each state based on the most valuable agricultural commodity it produces, based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At a big picture level, how does the country break down?
|Most Valuable Agricultural Commodity||Number of States|
|Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||16|
|Poultry and eggs||9|
|Cattle and calves||7|
|Milk from cows||7|
|Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||4|
|Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||3|
|Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes||2|
|Other crops and hay||1|
Broadly speaking, the category of “Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas” is the most valuable agricultural commodity in 16 states, while aquaculture was the most important in only one state, which is Alaska.
It’s interesting that there are niches that end up deriving massive amounts of value in only a few states. For example, the category of “Fruit, tree nuts, and berries” is the biggest in just three states, but California makes $17.6 billion from it every year – more than the size of the entire agricultural sector of some states.
State by State Data
Finally, here’s a look at the data for each state in a sortable table:
|#1||California||Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||$17,638,972,000|
|#2||Iowa||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$17,146,679,000|
|#3||Illinois||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$13,589,230,000|
|#4||Texas||Cattle and calves||$13,013,127,000|
|#5||Minnesota||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$12,304,415,000|
|#6||Nebraska||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$10,698,861,000|
|#7||Kansas||Cattle and calves||$10,153,087,000|
|#8||North Dakota||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$8,813,348,000|
|#9||Indiana||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$7,217,854,000|
|#10||Ohio||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$5,834,600,000|
|#11||South Dakota||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$5,809,792,000|
|#12||Wisconsin||Milk from cows||$4,952,039,000|
|#13||North Carolina||Poultry and eggs||$4,837,026,000|
|#14||Georgia||Poultry and eggs||$4,773,837,000|
|#15||Colorado||Cattle and calves||$4,321,308,000|
|#16||Arkansas||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$4,214,355,000|
|#17||Missouri||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$3,922,873,000|
|#18||Alabama||Poultry and eggs||$3,624,852,000|
|#19||Michigan||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$3,613,250,000|
|#20||Oklahoma||Cattle and calves||$3,402,919,000|
|#21||Washington||Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||$2,931,370,000|
|#22||Mississippi||Poultry and eggs||$2,744,048,000|
|#23||New York||Milk from cows||$2,417,398,000|
|#24||Idaho||Milk from cows||$2,333,364,000|
|#25||Pennsylvania||Milk from cows||$1,966,892,000|
|#26||Florida||Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||$1,847,805,000|
|#27||Louisiana||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,832,208,000|
|#28||Montana||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,787,162,000|
|#29||Kentucky||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,656,983,000|
|#30||South Carolina||Poultry and eggs||$1,476,817,000|
|#31||Tennessee||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,301,303,000|
|#32||New Mexico||Milk from cows||$1,251,065,000|
|#33||Virginia||Poultry and eggs||$1,161,564,000|
|#34||Wyoming||Cattle and calves||$1,101,195,000|
|#35||Maryland||Poultry and eggs||$922,999,000|
|#36||Oregon||Cattle and calves||$894,485,000|
|#37||Delaware||Poultry and eggs||$811,301,000|
|#38||Arizona||Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes||$764,062,000|
|#39||Vermont||Milk from cows||$504,884,000|
|#40||New Jersey||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$405,247,000|
|#41||West Virginia||Poultry and eggs||$401,439,000|
|#42||Utah||Cattle and calves||$364,214,000|
|#43||Nevada||Other crops and hay||$280,554,000|
|#44||Connecticut||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$252,923,000|
|#45||Maine||Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes||$207,254,000|
|#46||Hawaii||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$152,930,000|
|#47||Massachusetts||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$144,188,000|
|#48||New Hampshire||Milk from cows||$54,798,000|
|#49||Rhode Island||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$32,831,000|
As the legal cannabis industry continues to take off, it’ll be interesting to see if the USDA incorporates that crop into its rankings in future years.
Balancing the Environmental Costs of Cannabis
Legal cannabis cultivation emits as much CO2 as 92,660 cars annually. Growing cannabis sustainably can reduce this massive environmental footprint.
Balancing the Environmental Costs of Cannabis
Economic development comes with a massive environmental cost.
Since 1980, heavy industrial activity has caused the doubling of CO2 emissions. As scientists warn of the lasting negative impacts this will have on the planet, nearly every industry is committing to sustainable practices to try to counteract this effect.
Today’s infographic comes from The Green Organic Dutchman, and it demonstrates that while the business of cannabis isn’t always eco-friendly, there are several tried-and-tested ways to reduce its massive footprint.
A HEFTY PRICE TO PAY
Energy is the second-highest cost driver in cannabis cultivation after labor.
There are two main culprits – lighting and HVAC systems (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Combined, they make up a whopping 89% of energy use in cannabis cultivation operations.
Last year, legal cannabis cultivation was responsible for consuming 1.1 million MWh of electricity, and producing 472,000 tons of CO2 emissions. That’s enough to power 92,500 homes, and produce the same emissions as 92,660 cars per year. As legal cannabis production scales, this will only escalate.
Much of this data can be attributed to how the plant is grown.
|Growing method||Power consumption (kWh/g)||Carbon intensity (lbs CO2e/g)|
Indoor cultivation is roughly 18 times more energy-intensive than outdoor cultivation, and produces 25 times the carbon emissions. On the other hand, outdoor production produces lower overall yield per square foot. Since it’s difficult to control the environment, impurities can also end up in the final product.
That’s why many companies opt for a hybrid approach instead – balancing the benefits of precise control, with the use of natural light to lower production costs.
A GAME PLAN FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Many licensed producers are adopting a suite of strategies to relieve this environmental footprint.
- Renewable energy
Diversifying the energy sources for cannabis cultivation can reduce carbon emissions. Solar and wind are top choices among cultivators.
- LED lighting
LED light bulbs are more than 60% more efficient than other types. They also produce barely any heat, lowering ventilation requirements.
- Water efficiency
A single cannabis plant can use up to 23 liters of water per day. Water can be recycled and re-used through innovative techniques such as reverse osmosis.
The plastic packaging often associated with cannabis products is a considerable contributor of waste. There are several alternatives, such as paper, glass, and tin. Each of these have their own benefits and drawbacks, depending on what they are used for.
Maximizing energy-efficiency has a domino effect not only on the planet, but on reduced operating costs. These savings can then be passed on to the buyer, which could prove to be a strong competitive advantage as the cannabis industry matures.
Stay tuned for part 6 of this series, where we’ll delve into the scientific evidence for medical cannabis compounds.
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