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The future of farming: finding a better way to feed the world
If there is one thing that most people will readily agree on, it must be that the way that we currently feed ourselves is highly ineffective. Polluting. And, at the same time, incapable of providing sufficient food for the ever-growing population of the world. Agriculture has become synonymous with a best effort, especially now that many in the developed nations are facing a hefty shortage of qualified personnel and resources, while developing countries are overexploiting the land and human resources. What is wrong with agriculture ? Even though some will try to nuance the above, it should - if anything - be amplified and emphasised at any given opportunity. The current state of farming is alarming and should worry all of us. While it is putting a huge strain on the environment and the world as a whole, it is painfully incapable of meeting demand. Something that must be changed if we are hoping to still be around in another couple of hundred years. The growing demand for food and produce, coupled with painfully ineffective farming methods, have led to a continuous expansion of farmlands. In doing so, valuable land is wasted - including tropical rainforests and rare, irreplaceable habitats of endangered or near-extinct species. At the same time, the nitrogen pollution is far exceeding all set limits and rendering us dangerously close to becoming extinct as a species as well. Bringing forth an agricultural revolution: coming up with new ideas As such, considering the risks of climate change, the agricultural industry should be taking a good hard look at itself. Thankfully, plenty of innovative minds have already come together to find new, sustainable ideas of re-organising farming. Some of those ideas are merely improving the current state of agriculture, while others are looking to completely re-do the way that we use the earth to feed ourselves. Improving the current state of  farming affairs through automation As for the first, merely improving the current way of farming, new technological innovations are involved. This is often described as technologies that will bring about the “fourth industrial revolution”, marrying various physical, digital and biological domains. Examples, championed by institutions such as the World Economic Forum, include next generation biotechnology innovations that seek to re-engineer plants, crops and animals.   Another huge pillar is precision farming, that seeks to optimise the use of water and pesticides. Smart systems and all kind of robots and autonomous vehicles will tackle the shortage of qualified personnel while ensuring that the entire food chain is traceable and transparant. At the same time, this allows for real-time farming that closely monitors and adjusts the land to minimise waste and prevent loss of crops. Drones will pollinate crops and distribute nutrients when and where needed. A smart tractor can take over a farmer’s job and prepare the soil, seed, weed, fertilise and harvest much more effectively. The internet of things can be used in combination with blockchain to increase accountability while manufacturing synthetic foods, that can be used to personalise our nutrition. All in, it serves an agricultural industry that feeds more people while being less labour-intensive. Nothing new, yet better. And quite possibly an easier pill to swallow for the industry leaders. Radically changing the way that we farm Another proposal that is gaining steam is a radical solution that proposes a decentralised system (as opposed to the technological advances being driven from large companies). This uses the local, natural ecosystem to balance out nature, while producing sustainably. In this view, farming systems are based on the interaction between plants, crops, animals and the environment. Effectively, this would mean that trees and shrubs might be planted amongst or around crops. That there would be a variety of crops and other plants placed in their natural habitat, reducing the need for artificial interference. This time, biodiversity would be agriculture’s greatest friend, using the natural habitat to deal with pests and increase the yield without damaging the soil. This idea is often referred to as ‘agroecology’. These natural ecosystems are circular, matching the production of both crops and energy with a sufficient water and waste management system. The nurturing and creation of such agroecology areas is performed by local communities and allied researchers, taking the control of the food back to the people. Quite different from the idea of automation, that will lay control over the world’s food stock in the hands of a selected few. It is time to take action No matter what side you are on, it is important to realise that the time to act is today. Thankfully, most people seem to agree on this, with a selection of government officials and representatives from the civil society and private sector soon meeting in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to discuss the future of farming.   The most hotly debated issue will be this question on who should be in control of farming: a selected few, who will drive innovation that will lead to robots producing artificial food for us, or in the hands of the local communities, who will find ways of farming in harmony with nature through circular systems embedded in the ecosystem. No matter what, it should be clear that, at least to some degree, we should all have a say in the future of our food. Those who have control over all the food in the world will find themselves in a dangerous position of power that should never have existed in the first place. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening---agriculture
If there is one thing that most people will readily agree on, it must be that the way that we currently feed ourselves is highly ineffective. Polluting. And, at the same time, incapable of providing sufficient food for the ever-growing population of the world. Agriculture has become synonymous with a best effort, especially now that many in the developed nations are facing a hefty shortage of qualified personnel and resources, while developing countries are overexploiting the land and human resources. What is wrong with agriculture ? Even though some will try to nuance the above, it should - if anything - be amplified and emphasised at any given opportunity. The current state of farming is alarming and should worry all of us. While it is putting a huge strain on the environment and the world as a whole, it is painfully incapable of meeting demand. Something that must be changed if we are hoping to still be around in another couple of hundred years. The growing demand for food and produce, coupled with painfully ineffective farming methods, have led to a continuous expansion of farmlands. In doing so, valuable land is wasted - including tropical rainforests and rare, irreplaceable habitats of endangered or near-extinct species. At the same time, the nitrogen pollution is far exceeding all set limits and rendering us dangerously close to becoming extinct as a species as well. Bringing forth an agricultural revolution: coming up with new ideas As such, considering the risks of climate change, the agricultural industry should be taking a good hard look at itself. Thankfully, plenty of innovative minds have already come together to find new, sustainable ideas of re-organising farming. Some of those ideas are merely improving the current state of agriculture, while others are looking to completely re-do the way that we use the earth to feed ourselves. Improving the current state of  farming affairs through automation As for the first, merely improving the current way of farming, new technological innovations are involved. This is often described as technologies that will bring about the “fourth industrial revolution”, marrying various physical, digital and biological domains. Examples, championed by institutions such as the World Economic Forum, include next generation biotechnology innovations that seek to re-engineer plants, crops and animals.   Another huge pillar is precision farming, that seeks to optimise the use of water and pesticides. Smart systems and all kind of robots and autonomous vehicles will tackle the shortage of qualified personnel while ensuring that the entire food chain is traceable and transparant. At the same time, this allows for real-time farming that closely monitors and adjusts the land to minimise waste and prevent loss of crops. Drones will pollinate crops and distribute nutrients when and where needed. A smart tractor can take over a farmer’s job and prepare the soil, seed, weed, fertilise and harvest much more effectively. The internet of things can be used in combination with blockchain to increase accountability while manufacturing synthetic foods, that can be used to personalise our nutrition. All in, it serves an agricultural industry that feeds more people while being less labour-intensive. Nothing new, yet better. And quite possibly an easier pill to swallow for the industry leaders. Radically changing the way that we farm Another proposal that is gaining steam is a radical solution that proposes a decentralised system (as opposed to the technological advances being driven from large companies). This uses the local, natural ecosystem to balance out nature, while producing sustainably. In this view, farming systems are based on the interaction between plants, crops, animals and the environment. Effectively, this would mean that trees and shrubs might be planted amongst or around crops. That there would be a variety of crops and other plants placed in their natural habitat, reducing the need for artificial interference. This time, biodiversity would be agriculture’s greatest friend, using the natural habitat to deal with pests and increase the yield without damaging the soil. This idea is often referred to as ‘agroecology’. These natural ecosystems are circular, matching the production of both crops and energy with a sufficient water and waste management system. The nurturing and creation of such agroecology areas is performed by local communities and allied researchers, taking the control of the food back to the people. Quite different from the idea of automation, that will lay control over the world’s food stock in the hands of a selected few. It is time to take action No matter what side you are on, it is important to realise that the time to act is today. Thankfully, most people seem to agree on this, with a selection of government officials and representatives from the civil society and private sector soon meeting in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to discuss the future of farming.   The most hotly debated issue will be this question on who should be in control of farming: a selected few, who will drive innovation that will lead to robots producing artificial food for us, or in the hands of the local communities, who will find ways of farming in harmony with nature through circular systems embedded in the ecosystem. No matter what, it should be clear that, at least to some degree, we should all have a say in the future of our food. Those who have control over all the food in the world will find themselves in a dangerous position of power that should never have existed in the first place. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening---agriculture
The future of farming: finding a better way to feed the world
The future of farming: finding a better way to feed the world
New foodscape alternatives get lots of attention in the Netherlands
Degraded landscapes, increasing droughts and floods. Food supply is under pressure. Ecosystem Restoration experts John Liu and Daniel Halsey are acting worldwide to restore ecosystems and making fields fertile again. On November the 15th, they gave a lecture about ecosystem restoration at Wageningen university, organised by The Plant/Marieke Karssen. The Netherlands had just like other European countries heavy droughts, which affected the harvest. Not surprisingly that the university hall was thus fully packed to hear about solutions. Permaculture, food forests, nature inclusive agriculture. In the Netherlands these words seem to have a magical meaning. Main media publish articles about these attempts to secure our future food production and to salvage our biodiversity. All the named systems work with different layers of plants and give trees an important role. What did Liu and Halsey tell about the new ways? Liu started the evening by emphasising the need to change. “We are developing alternatives too slowly and especially too theoretical. Only when you practise restoration in the field, you really learn. Therefore I invite every student here to visit Ecosystem Restoration Camps.” He added: “Humanity is the only kind on earth who can consciously restore ecosystems. We can displace organic material.” Change comes through troubles Also Daniel Halsey sees the big challenges that we stand for. He also sees possibilities. “Real change only comes through trouble.” He travelled a lot around the world and saw the same problems everywhere. “We extracted life out of the earth. We can return this by feeding the earth with its own organic waste. Not with fertilizers and pesticides, but with organic material. That is the way nature works.” Halsey loves to work with local farmers. “They know about natural vegetation in their area. Female farmers from California noticed the difference in temperature between healthy soil with organic material and poor degraded soils. They learned in a few days to feed the ground with organic waste material and lowered the temperature in the soil with a few degrees.” Halsey showed different designs of permaculture landscape designs, where permanent landscape elements like shrubs and trees are combined with annual crops and animals. “If you see insects, butterflies and birds come back, you know you are doing the right thing.” Ecosystem restoration is not only profitable for these animal species, also for the farmer. “With chicken under hazelnuts, the trees gave three times as much nuts as before”, said Halsey. Rethink: what is a community? For such new steps people have to rethink their ideas of a community. “Once I visited a farmer who had 1800 cows. He was proud he alone replaced the work of 60 small scale farmers who formerly were needed to milk 1800 cows. I only thought: with only one family there is no bakery, no café and no school. Is that progress? Whole communities have disappeared.” No division between agriculture or nature, only between working or not working systems After the lecture, three cases followed. One about the heather grounds. How to combine this type of nature with animals, since every nature conserver in this case is afraid of nutrients as they will change the heather into the next phase of succession, a forest. While in former times it was most natural to let graze animals like sheep. “Do things bit by bit. Too much is always wrong. We can accept animals and exotics in nature. If only we watch the system: how does it affect the system?”,  Halsey responded. Another casus was about the Ecosystem Restoration Camp in Spain. More biodiversity is coming slowly, but there is almost no economic base. “Maybe we should redefine economics. As a place to learn it is super valuable”, Halsey said. A third casus from California was very actual, since the forest fires caused disasters. The big challenge to feed a big city, preserve nature and produce enough food makes it difficult to choose alternative systems like permaculture. “I see nature not as different from agriculture. I only see systems that work, or not”, Halsey said. He added that he thinks that western farmers are the first to change their habits. “It is not about who has to be the first investor, in the meaning of being less profitable. Harvest will only rise when you take care of the whole system”, Liu added. See for more information: https://permaculture.org/,  https://ecosystemrestorationcamps.org http://www.southwoodscenter.com/ https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening---agriculture
Degraded landscapes, increasing droughts and floods. Food supply is under pressure. Ecosystem Restoration experts John Liu and Daniel Halsey are acting worldwide to restore ecosystems and making fields fertile again. On November the 15th, they gave a lecture about ecosystem restoration at Wageningen university, organised by The Plant/Marieke Karssen. The Netherlands had just like other European countries heavy droughts, which affected the harvest. Not surprisingly that the university hall was thus fully packed to hear about solutions. Permaculture, food forests, nature inclusive agriculture. In the Netherlands these words seem to have a magical meaning. Main media publish articles about these attempts to secure our future food production and to salvage our biodiversity. All the named systems work with different layers of plants and give trees an important role. What did Liu and Halsey tell about the new ways? Liu started the evening by emphasising the need to change. “We are developing alternatives too slowly and especially too theoretical. Only when you practise restoration in the field, you really learn. Therefore I invite every student here to visit Ecosystem Restoration Camps.” He added: “Humanity is the only kind on earth who can consciously restore ecosystems. We can displace organic material.” Change comes through troubles Also Daniel Halsey sees the big challenges that we stand for. He also sees possibilities. “Real change only comes through trouble.” He travelled a lot around the world and saw the same problems everywhere. “We extracted life out of the earth. We can return this by feeding the earth with its own organic waste. Not with fertilizers and pesticides, but with organic material. That is the way nature works.” Halsey loves to work with local farmers. “They know about natural vegetation in their area. Female farmers from California noticed the difference in temperature between healthy soil with organic material and poor degraded soils. They learned in a few days to feed the ground with organic waste material and lowered the temperature in the soil with a few degrees.” Halsey showed different designs of permaculture landscape designs, where permanent landscape elements like shrubs and trees are combined with annual crops and animals. “If you see insects, butterflies and birds come back, you know you are doing the right thing.” Ecosystem restoration is not only profitable for these animal species, also for the farmer. “With chicken under hazelnuts, the trees gave three times as much nuts as before”, said Halsey. Rethink: what is a community? For such new steps people have to rethink their ideas of a community. “Once I visited a farmer who had 1800 cows. He was proud he alone replaced the work of 60 small scale farmers who formerly were needed to milk 1800 cows. I only thought: with only one family there is no bakery, no café and no school. Is that progress? Whole communities have disappeared.” No division between agriculture or nature, only between working or not working systems After the lecture, three cases followed. One about the heather grounds. How to combine this type of nature with animals, since every nature conserver in this case is afraid of nutrients as they will change the heather into the next phase of succession, a forest. While in former times it was most natural to let graze animals like sheep. “Do things bit by bit. Too much is always wrong. We can accept animals and exotics in nature. If only we watch the system: how does it affect the system?”,  Halsey responded. Another casus was about the Ecosystem Restoration Camp in Spain. More biodiversity is coming slowly, but there is almost no economic base. “Maybe we should redefine economics. As a place to learn it is super valuable”, Halsey said. A third casus from California was very actual, since the forest fires caused disasters. The big challenge to feed a big city, preserve nature and produce enough food makes it difficult to choose alternative systems like permaculture. “I see nature not as different from agriculture. I only see systems that work, or not”, Halsey said. He added that he thinks that western farmers are the first to change their habits. “It is not about who has to be the first investor, in the meaning of being less profitable. Harvest will only rise when you take care of the whole system”, Liu added. See for more information: https://permaculture.org/,  https://ecosystemrestorationcamps.org http://www.southwoodscenter.com/ https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening---agriculture
New foodscape alternatives get lots of attention in the Netherlands
Robot bees are all the buzz
It is no secret that human activity has had a profound impact on our planet. We’ve destroyed large parts of Malaysian forests,polluted our oceans and turned one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World into a dum p , but it all pales in comparison with our impact on some of the most important beings on Earth – bees. Bees are vital for food production, as according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States bees pollinate 71% of the 100 crop species that provide us with 90% of our food. Being the most efficient pollinators amongst insects, bees allow us to enjoy a great variety of fruits, vegetables, berries and many other plants that would all disappear if the bees were to go extinct. The effect of this would be far too great to imagine and our planet would look very different to what it does now. Since 2006 US has lost 40% of its commercial honeybees, while in the UK the situation is even more drastic – their population of honeybees has decreased by 45% since 2010; beekeepers around Europe have been reporting unusual weakening and mortality in their bee colonies since 1998. So why are we blaming human activity for this? The answer is quite predictable – pesticides. Many studies suggested that use of neonicotinoids (neuro-active insecticides meant to keep away pests) poses a threat to honeybee colonies. Based on an analysis of more than 1500 studies, European Union has decided to ban three main neonicotinoids earlier this year. It’s time to talk about the birds and… the robots ? While protective measures are being taken, some scientists are preparing for the worst-case scenario and are developing new ways to pollinate plants that don’t require the hands on approach that some Chinese farms currently employ. A team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has created a drone called DelFly Nimble that replicates the wing motions of fruit flies and will be able to help the bees do their job (or, worst come to worst, replace them). Image credit: DelFly Project The wing motion is the large part of what makes these drones unique. The robot bees can hover on the spot, flip 360 degrees and fly in any direction – all courtesy of fruit fly’s evasive techniques.  This wing motion is also much more efficient than the more traditional helicopter-style blades, which allows the robot bees to stay airborne for longer. And with addition of spatial sensors they will be able to avoid obstacles and each other, much like their real life inspirations. Currently, the drones are quite big – DelFly Nimbles have a 33cm wingspan – and are only able to fly for about 6 minutes, which allows them to cover the distance of 1 km (or 0.6 miles) on a single charge. However, Matej Karásek, a researcher working on the project, says that the goal is to get the drone to be as small as the real honeybees. DelFly Project aren’t the first to attempt to create a robot bee. Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute are developing RoboBees, that could not only pollinate crops, but also assist in environmental monitoring and search-and-rescue operations. RoboBees are much smaller than their Dutch counterparts, being roughly half the size of a paper clip, but they don’t have batteries, instead relying on an external power source, and are currently unable to fit even the smallest microchip, which means that the robots aren’t able to make decisions on their own. The ultimate goal of the project is to find a way to make RoboBees wireless and allow them to respond to the environment and act as a single unit. Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University Another interesting approach to creating robot bees comes from Japan. A team at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology engineered their version of a device using a $100 drone, horsehair and sticky ion gel. The idea is very simple – the drone flies into a flower, the pollen from this flower gets stuck to the ion gel and horsehair and then the drone shakes it off at the next flower. This is certainly a project in an early stage of development, but hopefully one that will become a success. Image credit: Eijiro Miyako As you can see, there isn’t a perfect robot bee out there just yet, but these projects are definitely showing a lot of promise and we wouldn’t be surprised to see tiny artificial bees in the near future. Do you think robot bees are the way to save us all from sure extinction or should we focus on saving the real bees instead? Share your thoughts with us in the comments! https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening-agriculture   Add value to the world, upload your idea                                   
It is no secret that human activity has had a profound impact on our planet. We’ve destroyed large parts of Malaysian forests,polluted our oceans and turned one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World into a dum p , but it all pales in comparison with our impact on some of the most important beings on Earth – bees. Bees are vital for food production, as according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States bees pollinate 71% of the 100 crop species that provide us with 90% of our food. Being the most efficient pollinators amongst insects, bees allow us to enjoy a great variety of fruits, vegetables, berries and many other plants that would all disappear if the bees were to go extinct. The effect of this would be far too great to imagine and our planet would look very different to what it does now. Since 2006 US has lost 40% of its commercial honeybees, while in the UK the situation is even more drastic – their population of honeybees has decreased by 45% since 2010; beekeepers around Europe have been reporting unusual weakening and mortality in their bee colonies since 1998. So why are we blaming human activity for this? The answer is quite predictable – pesticides. Many studies suggested that use of neonicotinoids (neuro-active insecticides meant to keep away pests) poses a threat to honeybee colonies. Based on an analysis of more than 1500 studies, European Union has decided to ban three main neonicotinoids earlier this year. It’s time to talk about the birds and… the robots ? While protective measures are being taken, some scientists are preparing for the worst-case scenario and are developing new ways to pollinate plants that don’t require the hands on approach that some Chinese farms currently employ. A team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has created a drone called DelFly Nimble that replicates the wing motions of fruit flies and will be able to help the bees do their job (or, worst come to worst, replace them). Image credit: DelFly Project The wing motion is the large part of what makes these drones unique. The robot bees can hover on the spot, flip 360 degrees and fly in any direction – all courtesy of fruit fly’s evasive techniques.  This wing motion is also much more efficient than the more traditional helicopter-style blades, which allows the robot bees to stay airborne for longer. And with addition of spatial sensors they will be able to avoid obstacles and each other, much like their real life inspirations. Currently, the drones are quite big – DelFly Nimbles have a 33cm wingspan – and are only able to fly for about 6 minutes, which allows them to cover the distance of 1 km (or 0.6 miles) on a single charge. However, Matej Karásek, a researcher working on the project, says that the goal is to get the drone to be as small as the real honeybees. DelFly Project aren’t the first to attempt to create a robot bee. Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute are developing RoboBees, that could not only pollinate crops, but also assist in environmental monitoring and search-and-rescue operations. RoboBees are much smaller than their Dutch counterparts, being roughly half the size of a paper clip, but they don’t have batteries, instead relying on an external power source, and are currently unable to fit even the smallest microchip, which means that the robots aren’t able to make decisions on their own. The ultimate goal of the project is to find a way to make RoboBees wireless and allow them to respond to the environment and act as a single unit. Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University Another interesting approach to creating robot bees comes from Japan. A team at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology engineered their version of a device using a $100 drone, horsehair and sticky ion gel. The idea is very simple – the drone flies into a flower, the pollen from this flower gets stuck to the ion gel and horsehair and then the drone shakes it off at the next flower. This is certainly a project in an early stage of development, but hopefully one that will become a success. Image credit: Eijiro Miyako As you can see, there isn’t a perfect robot bee out there just yet, but these projects are definitely showing a lot of promise and we wouldn’t be surprised to see tiny artificial bees in the near future. Do you think robot bees are the way to save us all from sure extinction or should we focus on saving the real bees instead? Share your thoughts with us in the comments! https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening-agriculture   Add value to the world, upload your idea                                   
Robot bees are all the buzz
Robot bees are all the buzz
Vertical agriculture – the future of farming is about to get off the ground
Future of farming is about to get off the ground – quite literally. In a brand new warehouse in Wageningen, The Netherlands, vertical farming is taking shape, with crops being grown above one another instead of next to each other. When you enter the warehouse, the first thing that stands out is the purple. The plants, stacked one above the other in KeyGene’s research greenhouse, are bathing in a sea of ​​purple light. And we haven’t even seen the true extent of it yet. “We have just added some more green [light] so you can see the plants better”, says Rolf Mank. “Normally, the plants are surrounded by even more purple”. He pulls up the controls for the lights on his tablet and increases the red value – and indeed, the purple light in the greenhouse becomes even brighter. Image by: Simon Lenskens A quiet, sun-lit field and a farmer ploughing it on his tractor – this image feels hopelessly out-dated when you are walking around KeyGene’s Crop Innovation Center. The center is actually a greenhouse that is tucked away in an industrial area on the outskirts of Wageningen, and it is where the latest technologies in the field of agriculture are tested. One of the most fascinating techniques is vertical farming, the cultivation of crops above each other instead of next to each other - agriculture in 3D, so to speak.   Revolutionising urban farming Rolf Mank is KeyGene’s expert in vertical agriculture. In the new research greenhouse Mank has 3 mini greenhouses for studying crops that are grown one on top of each other. The sides of these greenhouses, which resemble large walk-in coolers, have special shelving for steel planters to hang in. KeyGene helps growers solve problems posed by vertical agriculture, often providing innovations for breeders that allow them to develop new varieties of plants. These problems can crop up in all sorts of unexpected ways. 'Take that purple light, for example,” says Mank. “Plants look almost black in it. This makes it very difficult for you as a grower to see if there is something wrong with the plant. So you have to add a little bit of green light to observe the plant.” The term “vertical agriculture” is often used one-to-one with urban farming, agriculture within the city limits. The idea comes from metropolises in the US and Japan, where the demand for fresh vegetables is high and the costs of getting those vegetables into the city are high as well. This is where vertical agriculture can become the solution. When you stack empty apartment buildings full of planters you can fill supermarket shelves with locally grown vegetables. In Tokyo and New York, as well as other places, there are already large-scale urban farms where leafy vegetables and herbs are grown under artificial light.   LEDs are lighting the way to a brighter future Social demand isn’t the only driver behind the increasing popularity of vertical agriculture – technological innovations are also driving its growth. Indoor farming generally utilises sodium lamps, which are the same as the ones used in streetlights. “These lamps convert a large part of the energy that they use not into light, but into heat. You must hang them at least three meters above the crops, otherwise they will burn.” The rapid rise of LED lighting offers a solution to this issue. Mank explains that LED lamps are much more efficient at converting energy into light and can thus be hung right above the plants. Moreover, you can play with colour. Erik Toussaint, spokesman for KeyGene, drew a wavelength of a light wave in his notepad. “The wavelengths associated with blue, red and far red are the ones that the plants enjoy the most”, he says, drawing arrows in his notepad. “They don’t perform as well under green. With LED lights, you can extract the green spectrum from the light beam, so that you do not have to put any energy into it anymore.” Square Roots' greenhouse in Brooklyn, New York. Image by: James en Karla Murray But is the grass any greener? Square Roots gives a good impression of how vertical farming looks in practice. This American company, founded by Kimbal Musk - the younger brother of Elon Musk - grows basil and lettuce in containers bathed in purple light in the heart of Brooklyn. That looks impressively advanced, but it also raises the question: is such an artificial environment actually good for the crop? There are indeed disadvantages to vertical agriculture. Or “disadvantages”, as Mank prefers to speak of them as of “opportunities”. "Take the tomato plant. In its current form it is too high for vertical agriculture. At KeyGene we have to ask: how can we adapt the plant so that it becomes shorter and thrives in a vertical greenhouse?” Mank acknowledges that they are still looking for solutions for some of the problems that vertical agriculture suffers. For example, in the case of agriculture in an enclosed space, air humidity increases rapidly, requiring expensive dehumidifiers. "And pests and diseases, which we do not know about yet, can play a role," says Mank. “In addition, many insect species cannot find their way in LED light. How does that affect plant development? And do biological pest control agents, such as predatory mites or parasitic wasps, still do their job well? These are questions that we can answer with the help of the new research greenhouse.”   Vertical farming – a logical step forward or simply a trend? Marie-Christine Van Labeke, professor of plant physiology at the University of Ghent, agrees that vertical farming is on the rise. “The term has been known to researchers for twenty years”, she says over the phone. "But the new lighting technology has attracted a lot of attention." Van Labeke expects vertical agriculture to become commonplace in large cities in about ten to fifteen years. “Although much will depend on the price. Are the multi-layer system and the energy for the lamps cheap enough for the grower to be profitable?” In Ghent they are researching a form of vertical agriculture that is more familiar: in greenhouses. In principle, it is possible to build a so-called 'migrating' system, in which the layers slide one by one to the top of the greenhouse to bask in the sunlight. KeyGene has a similar system, where more than ten thousand plants move slowly through two layers and stand in the sun for half the time. This means that no energy from lamps is needed. Yet Mank and Toussaint do not expect much from vertical agriculture in greenhouses. “In the Netherlands there is sufficient light for the greenhouses and the infrastructure is in up to par. The immediate demand for fresh vegetables is already very well served, "says Toussaint. Mank adds: “In vertical agriculture we think mainly of cities like Moscow, Mumbai and Dubai. In the Netherlands it will at most serve a niche market. Think of a vertical greenhouse in the supermarket, where herbs are grown for promotion.”   Combining new technology with an old practice Those who cast aside their doubts regarding vertical agriculture quickly see the ingenious possibilities that the technology entails. Van Labeke shares one such example: “Exploratory studies show that plants produce antioxidants under certain light wavelengths. This can potentially be applied by putting plants under the light at that wavelength a week before harvesting. This way you could use specific ‘light recipes’ to grow extra nutritious plants.” Marco van Schriek, expert in digital phenotyping, which is fully automatic measuring of plants, is tasked with taking KeyGene’s innovation one step further into the future. Van Schriek points to a large metal compartment. “The plants will enter the photo area via the conveyor belt,” he says. “The computer analyzes the photos and automatically puts measurement data on growth into the system.” By linking a system such as digital phenotyping to vertical agriculture, in which you can regulate all conditions such as light, temperature and air humidity, you get a fully automatic, computer-controlled agriculture, in which an algorithm determines how much water and what light the plants are being administered. And what about the farmer on his tractor? "In the end, we also help that farmer," says Toussaint. “With our advanced research we look at questions such as: how do we make a plant resistant to certain diseases? Then you will have to spray fewer pesticides and that is better for everyone.”   Important vertical agriculture companies Square Roots   - Vertical agriculture in containers in the heart of Brooklyn by Kimbal Musk. AeroFarms - Large-scale domestic builder from America. Opened a 6,500 m² vertical farm in 2016, where they produce almost one million kilos of vegetables annually. Fujitsu - Japanese ICT giant transforming one of its semiconductor plants into a vertical lettuce farm - reportedly to convince farmers to use ICT services. Plenty - New player on the market. Applies 'tower agriculture', where the crops do not grow in stacked containers, but sideways in towers of sorts. GROWx – Amsterdam-based vertical farm that is the first to run entirely on renewable energy.   This article is a translation of a Dutch piece by Volkskrant. Our Dutch readers can read it  here.  
Future of farming is about to get off the ground – quite literally. In a brand new warehouse in Wageningen, The Netherlands, vertical farming is taking shape, with crops being grown above one another instead of next to each other. When you enter the warehouse, the first thing that stands out is the purple. The plants, stacked one above the other in KeyGene’s research greenhouse, are bathing in a sea of ​​purple light. And we haven’t even seen the true extent of it yet. “We have just added some more green [light] so you can see the plants better”, says Rolf Mank. “Normally, the plants are surrounded by even more purple”. He pulls up the controls for the lights on his tablet and increases the red value – and indeed, the purple light in the greenhouse becomes even brighter. Image by: Simon Lenskens A quiet, sun-lit field and a farmer ploughing it on his tractor – this image feels hopelessly out-dated when you are walking around KeyGene’s Crop Innovation Center. The center is actually a greenhouse that is tucked away in an industrial area on the outskirts of Wageningen, and it is where the latest technologies in the field of agriculture are tested. One of the most fascinating techniques is vertical farming, the cultivation of crops above each other instead of next to each other - agriculture in 3D, so to speak.   Revolutionising urban farming Rolf Mank is KeyGene’s expert in vertical agriculture. In the new research greenhouse Mank has 3 mini greenhouses for studying crops that are grown one on top of each other. The sides of these greenhouses, which resemble large walk-in coolers, have special shelving for steel planters to hang in. KeyGene helps growers solve problems posed by vertical agriculture, often providing innovations for breeders that allow them to develop new varieties of plants. These problems can crop up in all sorts of unexpected ways. 'Take that purple light, for example,” says Mank. “Plants look almost black in it. This makes it very difficult for you as a grower to see if there is something wrong with the plant. So you have to add a little bit of green light to observe the plant.” The term “vertical agriculture” is often used one-to-one with urban farming, agriculture within the city limits. The idea comes from metropolises in the US and Japan, where the demand for fresh vegetables is high and the costs of getting those vegetables into the city are high as well. This is where vertical agriculture can become the solution. When you stack empty apartment buildings full of planters you can fill supermarket shelves with locally grown vegetables. In Tokyo and New York, as well as other places, there are already large-scale urban farms where leafy vegetables and herbs are grown under artificial light.   LEDs are lighting the way to a brighter future Social demand isn’t the only driver behind the increasing popularity of vertical agriculture – technological innovations are also driving its growth. Indoor farming generally utilises sodium lamps, which are the same as the ones used in streetlights. “These lamps convert a large part of the energy that they use not into light, but into heat. You must hang them at least three meters above the crops, otherwise they will burn.” The rapid rise of LED lighting offers a solution to this issue. Mank explains that LED lamps are much more efficient at converting energy into light and can thus be hung right above the plants. Moreover, you can play with colour. Erik Toussaint, spokesman for KeyGene, drew a wavelength of a light wave in his notepad. “The wavelengths associated with blue, red and far red are the ones that the plants enjoy the most”, he says, drawing arrows in his notepad. “They don’t perform as well under green. With LED lights, you can extract the green spectrum from the light beam, so that you do not have to put any energy into it anymore.” Square Roots' greenhouse in Brooklyn, New York. Image by: James en Karla Murray But is the grass any greener? Square Roots gives a good impression of how vertical farming looks in practice. This American company, founded by Kimbal Musk - the younger brother of Elon Musk - grows basil and lettuce in containers bathed in purple light in the heart of Brooklyn. That looks impressively advanced, but it also raises the question: is such an artificial environment actually good for the crop? There are indeed disadvantages to vertical agriculture. Or “disadvantages”, as Mank prefers to speak of them as of “opportunities”. "Take the tomato plant. In its current form it is too high for vertical agriculture. At KeyGene we have to ask: how can we adapt the plant so that it becomes shorter and thrives in a vertical greenhouse?” Mank acknowledges that they are still looking for solutions for some of the problems that vertical agriculture suffers. For example, in the case of agriculture in an enclosed space, air humidity increases rapidly, requiring expensive dehumidifiers. "And pests and diseases, which we do not know about yet, can play a role," says Mank. “In addition, many insect species cannot find their way in LED light. How does that affect plant development? And do biological pest control agents, such as predatory mites or parasitic wasps, still do their job well? These are questions that we can answer with the help of the new research greenhouse.”   Vertical farming – a logical step forward or simply a trend? Marie-Christine Van Labeke, professor of plant physiology at the University of Ghent, agrees that vertical farming is on the rise. “The term has been known to researchers for twenty years”, she says over the phone. "But the new lighting technology has attracted a lot of attention." Van Labeke expects vertical agriculture to become commonplace in large cities in about ten to fifteen years. “Although much will depend on the price. Are the multi-layer system and the energy for the lamps cheap enough for the grower to be profitable?” In Ghent they are researching a form of vertical agriculture that is more familiar: in greenhouses. In principle, it is possible to build a so-called 'migrating' system, in which the layers slide one by one to the top of the greenhouse to bask in the sunlight. KeyGene has a similar system, where more than ten thousand plants move slowly through two layers and stand in the sun for half the time. This means that no energy from lamps is needed. Yet Mank and Toussaint do not expect much from vertical agriculture in greenhouses. “In the Netherlands there is sufficient light for the greenhouses and the infrastructure is in up to par. The immediate demand for fresh vegetables is already very well served, "says Toussaint. Mank adds: “In vertical agriculture we think mainly of cities like Moscow, Mumbai and Dubai. In the Netherlands it will at most serve a niche market. Think of a vertical greenhouse in the supermarket, where herbs are grown for promotion.”   Combining new technology with an old practice Those who cast aside their doubts regarding vertical agriculture quickly see the ingenious possibilities that the technology entails. Van Labeke shares one such example: “Exploratory studies show that plants produce antioxidants under certain light wavelengths. This can potentially be applied by putting plants under the light at that wavelength a week before harvesting. This way you could use specific ‘light recipes’ to grow extra nutritious plants.” Marco van Schriek, expert in digital phenotyping, which is fully automatic measuring of plants, is tasked with taking KeyGene’s innovation one step further into the future. Van Schriek points to a large metal compartment. “The plants will enter the photo area via the conveyor belt,” he says. “The computer analyzes the photos and automatically puts measurement data on growth into the system.” By linking a system such as digital phenotyping to vertical agriculture, in which you can regulate all conditions such as light, temperature and air humidity, you get a fully automatic, computer-controlled agriculture, in which an algorithm determines how much water and what light the plants are being administered. And what about the farmer on his tractor? "In the end, we also help that farmer," says Toussaint. “With our advanced research we look at questions such as: how do we make a plant resistant to certain diseases? Then you will have to spray fewer pesticides and that is better for everyone.”   Important vertical agriculture companies Square Roots   - Vertical agriculture in containers in the heart of Brooklyn by Kimbal Musk. AeroFarms - Large-scale domestic builder from America. Opened a 6,500 m² vertical farm in 2016, where they produce almost one million kilos of vegetables annually. Fujitsu - Japanese ICT giant transforming one of its semiconductor plants into a vertical lettuce farm - reportedly to convince farmers to use ICT services. Plenty - New player on the market. Applies 'tower agriculture', where the crops do not grow in stacked containers, but sideways in towers of sorts. GROWx – Amsterdam-based vertical farm that is the first to run entirely on renewable energy.   This article is a translation of a Dutch piece by Volkskrant. Our Dutch readers can read it  here.  
Vertical agriculture – the future of farming is about to get off the ground
Vertical agriculture – the future of farming is about to get off the ground
Smart agriculture will be data (AI) driven agriculture
Scandal and headlines about data farming abound today, thanks to the alleged irresponsibility of the world’s biggest media platforms regarding consumer data. But new applications for AI in the industrial space prove that there’s a positive role yet for data farmers – although, perhaps not the kind you’re thinking of. Data farming for agricultural activities could be very benificial   As businesspeople grapple with the challenges of minimal infrastructure and effective use of data, the hunt for valuable use cases for AI and IoT technology continues – and finding the right answers to their business problems could lead them to some unusual places. Modern agriculture has long been technology-driven, but many of the challenges associated with farming in the 21st century fall against the backdrop of growing  food insecurity and a booming population outgrowing the rate of agricultural efficiency. By 2050, increases of 70% in global food production is the bare minimum required to feed the world’s population – a challenge even more severe if that population is to be fully nourished. One of the most promising approaches to solve this global issue is data-driven agriculture – and FarmBeats is an end-to-end IoT platform for agriculture which puts AI and machine learning at its core.   Intelligent agriculture is sustainable agriculture   “If we could augment the farmer with insights, then this could drive techniques such as precision agriculture, which has been shown to reduce costs, improve yields, and help with sustainable agriculture,” argues Ranveer Chandra, Principal Researcher for FarmBeats. Chandra headed a small project team of nine people, who were tasked with trying to find a way to boost yields and farm efficiency AI. That’s easier said than done, especially in a sector that remains mostly undigitized at the point of production. “The need for  AI is significant in agriculture. However, in most agricultural settings – especially in the developing world – farmers don’t have the same IT expertise as someone working in an industrial IoT settings,” Chandra says. “Hence, we need to take additional steps, and apply the AI techniques to provide actionable insights on top of the raw data and imagery that we collect from the farms. Based on these models, we can predict what is likely to happen in the future with some degree of confidence.”   Faced with little to no Internet coverage out on rural farms, Chandra’s team were challenged to develop low-cost connectivity solutions on which IoT sensors and AI hardware could operate. “We designed a system that used new technologies, such as TV white spaces, to gather data from the farms at a very low cost,” Chandra says. “This technology allows several Mbps connection over a few miles, which we are able to use to collect data not only from sensors, but also from drones and cameras.”     An effective case study for AI and the IIoT   By applying machine vision algorithms to drone footage, FarmBeats is able to provide farmers with a digital heatmap of crop health and ground moisture   Photo by: VeryDrone The end result is an incredibly sophisticated Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution which provides farmers with real-time data, insights, and actionable recommendations using AI and sensor technology. Ground sensors measure inputs such as soil moisture and nutrients; temperature and humidity are monitored in food storage and livestock shelters; while drones are used to help farmers map their fields, monitor crop canopy remotely, and check for anomalies. “IoT is a way to capture enormous amounts of data that was previously just not available to us. However, this deluge of data can be hard to parse. The key challenge here is how to transform data from IoT systems and satellites into actionable insights, and this is really where AI and machine learning come in,” Chandra explains.   Photo by: GeoSpatialWorld Farm Beats uses AI techniques to fuse aerial imagery from drones with ground sensor data, while also leveraging deep learning and machine vision on video streams to identify pests, diseases, and nutritional deficiencies in crops. Here, edge computing became necessary to overcome any connectivity barriers of working in the cloud.   A PC running Microsoft Azure IoT Edge on Windows 10 uses computer vision algorithms to stitch together drone images into a panoramic image, perform machine learning on images from drones and cameras, and is also able to run offline – syncing data to the cloud so that the farmer can access the data remotely.       Learning from FarmBeats: AI and IoT for industry   Chandra believes that the FarmBeats system is a unique showcase for how IoT and AI can be used in a challenging scenario to solve some of the world’s hardest problems. The core principles of connectivity, IoT, and AI at the edge involves innovations which he believes can help drive digital transformation of several other challenging verticals, including mining, construction, and forestry. So how can legacy businesses look to start implementing AI and the Industrial IoT into their industrial processes?   “Never start with the technology angle, i.e. asking how you can use AI and IoT,” Chandra argues. “Go back to the drawing board, think about your business processes and challenges, and identify areas of improvement – and don’t have your technology teams in the room while you do this. They’re going to hate me for saying that, but we have a tendency to limit ourselves within the boundaries of existing technologies. There’s no silver bullet – you need to first identify your business challenges and future aspirations in a technology agnostic way.” “Secondly, get some data on Azure – data is the new oil, and cross-industry studies show that on average, less than half of an organization’s structured data is actively used in maing decisions, and less than 1% of unstructured data is analyzed or used at all. Data consolidation, cleansing, standardization would be the right starting point – we call this building the data infrastructure for digital transformation. Next steps would be providing a data governance platform, where we provide the right search mechanisms to make the data findable, monitor the usage and store in immutable ledgers, build a billing mechanism where you can charge internal and external users, build a secure datasharing mechanism with external untrusted parties, and finally, develop a security and privacy platform. This is what we at MS call a Trusted Data Platform.”   From there, businesses should look at turning this data into actionable information for use by AI. Here, MS recommend tapping into your organization’s unique IP, where you are able to apply deep knowledge optimization of business processes to developing artificial intelligence assets. “Providing connected by utilizing the digital feedback loops possible with the introduction of IoT and cloud-based capabilities could bring new revenue streams. One of the fastest growing areas we see is connected field services where this continuous dataflow, combined with internal inforamtion assets, makes new service models possible – leading to higher margins with special service contracts.”   https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening---agriculture   By Ciarán Daly
Scandal and headlines about data farming abound today, thanks to the alleged irresponsibility of the world’s biggest media platforms regarding consumer data. But new applications for AI in the industrial space prove that there’s a positive role yet for data farmers – although, perhaps not the kind you’re thinking of. Data farming for agricultural activities could be very benificial   As businesspeople grapple with the challenges of minimal infrastructure and effective use of data, the hunt for valuable use cases for AI and IoT technology continues – and finding the right answers to their business problems could lead them to some unusual places. Modern agriculture has long been technology-driven, but many of the challenges associated with farming in the 21st century fall against the backdrop of growing  food insecurity and a booming population outgrowing the rate of agricultural efficiency. By 2050, increases of 70% in global food production is the bare minimum required to feed the world’s population – a challenge even more severe if that population is to be fully nourished. One of the most promising approaches to solve this global issue is data-driven agriculture – and FarmBeats is an end-to-end IoT platform for agriculture which puts AI and machine learning at its core.   Intelligent agriculture is sustainable agriculture   “If we could augment the farmer with insights, then this could drive techniques such as precision agriculture, which has been shown to reduce costs, improve yields, and help with sustainable agriculture,” argues Ranveer Chandra, Principal Researcher for FarmBeats. Chandra headed a small project team of nine people, who were tasked with trying to find a way to boost yields and farm efficiency AI. That’s easier said than done, especially in a sector that remains mostly undigitized at the point of production. “The need for  AI is significant in agriculture. However, in most agricultural settings – especially in the developing world – farmers don’t have the same IT expertise as someone working in an industrial IoT settings,” Chandra says. “Hence, we need to take additional steps, and apply the AI techniques to provide actionable insights on top of the raw data and imagery that we collect from the farms. Based on these models, we can predict what is likely to happen in the future with some degree of confidence.”   Faced with little to no Internet coverage out on rural farms, Chandra’s team were challenged to develop low-cost connectivity solutions on which IoT sensors and AI hardware could operate. “We designed a system that used new technologies, such as TV white spaces, to gather data from the farms at a very low cost,” Chandra says. “This technology allows several Mbps connection over a few miles, which we are able to use to collect data not only from sensors, but also from drones and cameras.”     An effective case study for AI and the IIoT   By applying machine vision algorithms to drone footage, FarmBeats is able to provide farmers with a digital heatmap of crop health and ground moisture   Photo by: VeryDrone The end result is an incredibly sophisticated Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution which provides farmers with real-time data, insights, and actionable recommendations using AI and sensor technology. Ground sensors measure inputs such as soil moisture and nutrients; temperature and humidity are monitored in food storage and livestock shelters; while drones are used to help farmers map their fields, monitor crop canopy remotely, and check for anomalies. “IoT is a way to capture enormous amounts of data that was previously just not available to us. However, this deluge of data can be hard to parse. The key challenge here is how to transform data from IoT systems and satellites into actionable insights, and this is really where AI and machine learning come in,” Chandra explains.   Photo by: GeoSpatialWorld Farm Beats uses AI techniques to fuse aerial imagery from drones with ground sensor data, while also leveraging deep learning and machine vision on video streams to identify pests, diseases, and nutritional deficiencies in crops. Here, edge computing became necessary to overcome any connectivity barriers of working in the cloud.   A PC running Microsoft Azure IoT Edge on Windows 10 uses computer vision algorithms to stitch together drone images into a panoramic image, perform machine learning on images from drones and cameras, and is also able to run offline – syncing data to the cloud so that the farmer can access the data remotely.       Learning from FarmBeats: AI and IoT for industry   Chandra believes that the FarmBeats system is a unique showcase for how IoT and AI can be used in a challenging scenario to solve some of the world’s hardest problems. The core principles of connectivity, IoT, and AI at the edge involves innovations which he believes can help drive digital transformation of several other challenging verticals, including mining, construction, and forestry. So how can legacy businesses look to start implementing AI and the Industrial IoT into their industrial processes?   “Never start with the technology angle, i.e. asking how you can use AI and IoT,” Chandra argues. “Go back to the drawing board, think about your business processes and challenges, and identify areas of improvement – and don’t have your technology teams in the room while you do this. They’re going to hate me for saying that, but we have a tendency to limit ourselves within the boundaries of existing technologies. There’s no silver bullet – you need to first identify your business challenges and future aspirations in a technology agnostic way.” “Secondly, get some data on Azure – data is the new oil, and cross-industry studies show that on average, less than half of an organization’s structured data is actively used in maing decisions, and less than 1% of unstructured data is analyzed or used at all. Data consolidation, cleansing, standardization would be the right starting point – we call this building the data infrastructure for digital transformation. Next steps would be providing a data governance platform, where we provide the right search mechanisms to make the data findable, monitor the usage and store in immutable ledgers, build a billing mechanism where you can charge internal and external users, build a secure datasharing mechanism with external untrusted parties, and finally, develop a security and privacy platform. This is what we at MS call a Trusted Data Platform.”   From there, businesses should look at turning this data into actionable information for use by AI. Here, MS recommend tapping into your organization’s unique IP, where you are able to apply deep knowledge optimization of business processes to developing artificial intelligence assets. “Providing connected by utilizing the digital feedback loops possible with the introduction of IoT and cloud-based capabilities could bring new revenue streams. One of the fastest growing areas we see is connected field services where this continuous dataflow, combined with internal inforamtion assets, makes new service models possible – leading to higher margins with special service contracts.”   https://www.whatsorb.com/category/gardening---agriculture   By Ciarán Daly
Smart agriculture will be data (AI) driven agriculture
Smart agriculture will be data (AI) driven agriculture
Gardening & Agriculture

Growing food, either commercially or as a hobby is one of the most satisfying things you can do. It is however not without chalanges. Protection agains natural or man-made threats, irrigation or other treatments of the soil has to be done with care. Read all about world wide initiatives to make agriculture more sustainable in these articles.

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