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How Farming Technology Is Changing the Agricultural Landscape

A man and a child in a berry patch tasting freshly picked strawberries
New farming technology is changing how we grow food and transforming how consumers shop and eat. Investment in agricultural solutions set a record of $1.5 billion in 2017, and 2018 is poised for an even higher rate of growth, Forbes notes. 

With the pressures of population growth and resource constraints, the farming industry is seeking the best and most efficient ways to produce enough food. Since major recalls trouble consumers and companies alike, and weather disruptions create shortages, food safety and security are currently strong areas of innovation.

Buy Local, Eat Local

Underpinning the rise of consumer engagement at the grocery store is the "buy local" movement. The past century has been marked by a rise of corporate farming and a decline in small family farms. While overall food supply and consistency has increased, concerns about nutrition, food safety and losing the connection to our agricultural heritage spurred the local food movement. This revolution has revitalized many small farms and local economies.

Consumers often prefer locally grown food, and technology is poised to make produce easier to find and purchase. As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, growers are required to provide crop data for traceability purposes. This same data is being used to create apps that enable consumers to access crop and grower information simply by scanning the item. With the traceability market predicted to be worth $14 billion by 2019, according to MarketsandMarkets, connecting the last link between farm and fork is a hot area.

E-Grocery Goes Local

While online food and beverage purchases are only a fraction of other categories like electronics and clothing, the category is surging. As of 2017, 31 percent of consumers were likely to buy food online and overall e-grocery sales were $14.2 billion, Statista reports. Although meal-in-a-box companies and internet-based retail giants may be driving the increased activity, savvy food retailers are combining interest in local food with online ordering. Some of these services offer an array of locally sourced food that is then harvested and delivered to a customer's door.

Upcycled Foods

The appalling amount of food waste in the United States — about 50 percent of all produce, according to The Atlantic — is giving rise to new farming technologies. In short, imperfect and excess food is being upcycled into new products. This represents opportunity on the farm level to create new products or sell to a company upcycling on a large scale. Some companies are buying up loads of fruits and vegetables destined to be dumped. With farmers losing as much as one-third of their crops, upcycling offers serious potential to boost revenues.

Biodegradable Packaging

Concerns about waste (especially plastic, with its long decomposition time) aren't going away anytime soon. Environmentally conscious consumers are seeking options that are convenient and earth-friendly. California has banned single-use plastic bags and Whole Foods has eliminated the "paper or plastic" choice. In response, food-packaging companies are developing biodegradable options. A number of organizations now offer "bio-based, fully compostable" bags, including open and zipper bags that are perfect for produce.

Reduce Water Use

Droughts — as well as the impact of agricultural water use — have turned attention to the planet's most precious resource. Since water is a key input for farming, measuring and monitoring it has been a prime area for farming technologies. These include field monitors that measure a range of inputs, including soil moisture. Monitors tied to irrigation systems can ensure that crops receive exactly the right amount of water.

New farming systems also require less water and often use alternative energy sources. Hydroponic, vertical and rooftop greenhouse producers are maximizing production while minimizing their impact and use of scarce resources. These new systems use the latest in farming technology, and could be utilized more broadly in the future.