Agriculture is one of the oldest and most fundamental industries. There are several important reasons why it should demonstrate innovation: from climate change to the increasing demand for food.
It is a crucial pillar of any country’s policy, contributing significantly to food security and playing a role in economic growth, as well as influencing the quality of life.
Find out about the challenges currently facing agriculture and the key trends in the industry.
Modern agriculture faces a range of challenges related to economic conditions, the environment, and social trends.
We have decided to focus on four significant aspects that impact agricultural development. These events not only determine how food is produced but also affect its availability, quality, and durability. They require solutions that can be implemented right now, with selected measures needing to be applied in the near future.
Global warming and greenhouse gas emissions pose a direct and serious threat to global crops. By 2050, the world’s average temperature is expected to increase by 1.5°C1.
According to The Copernicus Climate Change Service, June, July, and August of 2023 were the warmest on record globally, with an average temperature of 16.77°C, 0.66°C higher than the average. In August, the world recorded the highest-ever monthly average sea surface temperature at 20.98°C2.
Extreme weather events in the June-July-August 2023 season included:
• Heavy rains in India led to flooding and water rising near the walls of the Taj Mahal, one of the country’s most famous landmarks.
• Rhodes (Greece) experienced numerous wildfires, resulting in the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, both residents and tourists, from hotels and homes.
• Violent storms, including hail the size of 2-5 cm, occurred locally in Poland, particularly in the Tarnów (Małopolska Voivodeship).
As extreme weather events intensify due to climate change, soil properties, including reduced moisture, are altered. Consequently, overall soil temperature and CO2 levels rise. Climate-induced abiotic stresses such as salinity, drought, and temperature fluctuations negatively impact crops and final yields, posing a serious threat to global food security. Additionally, the use of pesticides contributes to further worse climate changes3.
To minimize the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector, more cautious and environmentally friendly strategies are needed to preserve biodiversity.
One of the biggest challenges in biodiversity conservation is urbanization and deforestation. Agriculture occupies about 40% of land surfaces4. This sector is responsible for 70-90% of deforestation worldwide. More than half of these lands are allocated for cultivation, while the remaining 40% is designated for animal husbandry5.
The use of monoculture cultivation methods depletes soil organic matter, reducing its ability to retain water and making it more susceptible to erosion and groundwater pollution.
Transforming lands for large-scale agriculture with excessive chemical use can lead to the destruction of local ecosystems, affecting various species of animals, insects, and plants.
Stable agricultural and farm production helps ensure consistent food supplies, which are essential for food security. The consequences of food shortages or delayed deliveries are felt by everyone in the form of product shortages and/or price hikes.
Several factors can impact delayed food transport, including:
1) Armed conflicts, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine in Europe.
2) Rapid and extreme weather changes, including storms, floods, and hailstorms.
3) Other global issues, like pandemics. Recently, it was the COVID-19 pandemic.
4) Shortages of workers or necessary goods for food production.
5) Blockages in supply routes due to political situations or accidents. For instance, in 2021, there was a week-long blockade of the Suez Canal caused by the Ever-Given container ship running aground, resulting in over 300 ships waiting for the waterway to reopen.
These crises, combined with communication noise, lead to panic buying, as seen during COVID.
UN forecasts indicate that the world’s population will increase to 9.7 billion by 2050. Currently, about 56% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to World Bank data, in 30 years, 7 out of 10 people will live in cities. This will require an increase in food production of up to 56%. Nonetheless, simply increasing production won’t be enough.
A potential global food crisis could lead to international migration on a large scale6. Change in the way products are produced is needed now. Currently, one-third of the food produced is lost or wasted, amounting to approximately 1 billion tons annually7.
The issues mentioned above are just a selection of the challenges facing the world of agriculture and the economy. Modern technologies are already being developed and implemented to accelerate production and ensure food security locally and globally.
Modern agriculture is not just about food production; it also addresses key global challenges, such as climate change, limited natural resources, and a growing population. It is a dynamic sector that evolves to meet environmental and economic challenges.
Explore solutions that can reduce a farmer’s time and labor while also promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development. Agricultural trends include the use of advanced technologies, the development of sustainable practices, and innovative approaches to food production.
Electronics may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about sustainable development, but through automation and artificial intelligence, food production processes can be accelerated, and the efficiency of production facilities can be improved.
In precision agriculture, automation reduces physical labor for routine tasks to a minimum or eliminates them altogether from the daily routine.
For large-scale farming, robotics can significantly reduce the number of ground-level tasks related to fieldwork.
Robots, remotely operated tractors, and machinery are already used on selected farms worldwide. These machines can work for up to 24 hours without break. They demonstrate exceptional precision and follow designated routes with an accuracy of up to approximately 2.5 cm8.
Agricultural drones assist in remote monitoring of conditions and the application of fertilizers and plant protection agents. Infrared images and analysis help rapidly identify problem areas.
The challenge for manufacturers is to make this technology more widely available. Efforts are ongoing to improve it, reduce the production costs of machines, and increase their efficiency.
While the human element will remain essential in farm management, the use of automated methods can increase yields and reduce business costs.
Implementing remote crop management software in facilities can offer benefits such as:
• Complete control at every stage of cultivation, from planting to harvest.
• Planning the entire production process to minimize food losses.
• Efficient management of teams focusing on essential tasks.
* Early warning systems for crisis situations to alert to changes in cultivation conditions.
The use of automated processes in agriculture is a practice that will become more common and beneficial for both: farmers and the environment.
As resource shortages and climate change become more pressing, the concept of a closed-loop economy has gained greater importance.
Its objectives include:
1) Reducing the amount of waste generated at every stage of production, including the final product.
2) A sustainable use of resources, enabling the recycling and reuse of raw materials.
3) Supporting sustainable development.
This method tries to replace the current system: “take – produce – throw away” with: “rethink – refuse – reduce – reuse – recycle”.
One of the assumptions of the circular economy is the use of renewable energy sources, including heat pumps and photovoltaic panels.
Renewable energy sources offer long-term cost savings that can be reinvested in business development. Moreover, they represent an eco-friendly solution. Energy generated by wind turbines, heat pumps, or photovoltaic panels emits minimal greenhouse gases and pollutants into the atmosphere.
Regenerative agriculture is a cultivation method aimed at improving soil quality, enhancing biodiversity, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It involves a set of principles and practices designed to restore ecosystems and improve water quality. These practices include interrupting monoculture and using catch crops.
Regenerative agriculture promotes multi-species cultivation and natural plant protection methods, such as organic fertilizers. While it does not rule out the use of pesticides, the goal is their rational and more precise application.
Large-scale urban agriculture integrates seamlessly into the urban landscape, utilizing existing buildings. Vertical farms can help establish a sustainable food production system close to city centers.
They ensure year-round access to fresh produce, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process. Plants are grown vertically, stacked on top of one another, rather than in horizontal rows as in traditional farming. Vertical farms can be set up in existing structures, even shipping containers, with proper thermal insulation being key.
Food from vertical farming reaches consumers faster. It contains no pesticides or other plant protection chemicals. These products are rich in selected phytonutrients, including carotenoids, which have a positive impact on health.
Under controlled conditions, plants receive all essential growth elements, including:
• Lighting (amount and spectrum of light exposure, varying by plant species)
• CO2 concentration
• Air circulation
Vertical farming can increase the profitability of business while making it more sustainable. This technology is revolutionizing traditional agriculture, providing year-round yields in a short time frame. Get to know How Vertical Farming Can Help Your Business to Strive.
Agriculture consumes 70% of the world’s water resources9. Inefficient water management in agriculture, coupled with climate change, exacerbates water scarcity issues. To address this, various water-saving techniques have emerged:
An eco-friendly solution that provides additional savings on farms. Rainwater also serves as a backup during droughts and can be used during dry periods.
In controlled vertical farming systems, water (along with nutrients) circulates in a closed loop. Vertical farming uses up to 95% less water compared to conventional farming methods. Let’s Check A Beginner’s Guide to Hydroponic Vertical Farming
In organic farming, the emphasis is on natural cultivation methods to maintain soil fertility and reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals. These practices also help conserve water. Crop rotation is one such method that reduces soil erosion.
Current challenges related to climate change, biodiversity preservation, and supply chain stability present agriculture with new, ambitious goals. The agriculture of the future not only adapts to changing circumstances but also offers innovative technological solutions for building a stable and efficient food production system.
This modern approach to agriculture considers environmental preservation, reduced food waste, and the delivery of healthier, more nutritious products to consumers. It paves the way for a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.
1 Farhana Bibi and Azizur Rahman, Climate Change and Food Security: Tackling the Challenges from Farm to Fork, An Overview of Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture and Their Mitigation Strategies, 2023.
2 The Copernicus Climate Change Service, Summer 2023: the hottest on record, 2023.
3 Farhana Bibi and Azizur Rahman, Climate Change and Food Security: Tackling the Challenges from Farm to Fork, An Overview of Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture and Their Mitigation Strategies, 2023.
4 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Land use in agriculture by the numbers, 2020.
5 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, COP26: Agricultural expansion drives almost 90 percent of global deforestation, 2021
6 SUERF Policy Brief, No 440*, Federico Carril-Caccia, Jordi Paniagua, Marta Suárez-Varela, Forces migration and food crises, 2022.
9 OECD, Managing water sustainably is key to the future of food and agriculture, [dostęp: 04.09.2023].