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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Sustainable Farming

Sustainable has been a concept for almost a century but is seriously emerging for the past decade. Here are some basic things you need to know in order to get more familiar with organic nutrition and the practices around it.

1. Organic food is more nutritious

There are a couple of important advantages organic agricultural products have. First of all, sustainable farming is designed to meet the demand of enhancing water quality, soil quality, reducing pollution, and providing healthy livestock habitats. Adding any kind of nutrients to the soil and synthetic pesticides are strictly forbidden during sustainable growing. Other practices that are not permitted are using sewage sludge as fertilizer, using irradiation for preserving the food, and giving antibiotics or growth hormones to the livestock. Instead, some of the practices may include: plant rotation to preserve soil quality, using predatory insects or insect traps to protect crops from pests, and using mulch to control weeds. Concerning the livestock, the animals are raised in healthy living conditions, have outdoor access, and are given organic foods and vaccinations. 

Over the past seven years there have been conducted many researches on nutrition. Organic fruits, vegetable, what, and corn are proven to contain much higher percentage of minerals, compared to conventional ones. Organic foods are also about 25% lower in mercury. Another important things is that everyone can need an organic diet. In fact, if everyone were to eat an organic meal, there would not be enough demand for the current agricultural business to keep up.

2. You need an organic certification

In order to produce organic food and organic agricultural products in the US, you would need an organic certificate. The best way to find if your farm or product is eligible for USDA certification is to contact a reputable organic certifying agent. Such agent must be certified by NOP (National Organic Program). People who are eligible for this type of certification are the following: farmers, livestock producers, processor of organic foods, fibers, and textiles, a handler/retailer/restaurant owner/marketer of organic products, a brand owner, developing organic products. To qualify, your product must meet the requirements of the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

3. There is no such thing as organic fish

When it comes to seafood, it is important to remember that there is not such thing as an organic fish. Fruits, vegetables, all other kinds of meat can be produced organically but there are no regulations or standards, concerning seafood. Therefore, it cannot be sealed organic. If you see this somewhere, it is most probably a scam, or a marketing technique, used to boost the price of the seafood in question.

4. Less than 1% American crops are organic

Although organic growing is emerging to be more and more popular, recent data shows that only 0.6% US citizens are producing food and other products organically. In Europe, this percentage is bigger with around 5.4% organic crops grow. Every year, this number continues to grow itself. In order for this number to grow in the US as well, people must start choosing organic whenever possible and practical in order to increase the demand.

5. A hundred years ago all agriculture was organic

Before the 1920s, farmers used natural means to nourish the soil and prevent the crops from pests. After that time, growers slowly started experimenting with chemicals, and after the Second World War, growing by using chemicals was perceived as “the normal” way of growing

Around the 1950s, a small group of advocated were looking for an alternative to the new industrial methods of growing, and started an organic movement. In the 70s and the 80s organic shops started to appear. 

Author’s Bio:

Name: Luis Rivera

Luis has 20+ years of experience in global market expansion, business development, mergers and acquisitions, business re-engineering, finance and investor relations of software companies. He is passionate about technology, spectral science, indoor farming, food production, automation, and more. Since 2015 he is the president of Advanced LED Lights, a leading LED grow lights manufacturer based in Hiwasse, Arkansas. When not at work, Luis enjoys swimming, yoga, as well as growing grapes and flowers in Sonoma, California. 

Link to author’s photo: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B75ukeQ09ymYUWxKc3dkcDBLcjA/view?usp=sharing

Tracking Food from Farm to Fork: The Place of Blockchain in Food & Agri

With the rise of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies came the rise in popularity of blockchain technology. The backbone of cryptocurrencies, blockchain is “a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography”. It is a distributed database, inherently resistant to modification, as any change would require a brute-force (and expensive) attack on the whole chain. To put it simply, all information put on blockchain is set in stone. The promise of blockchain, therefore, lies in the decentralized power over data ownership.

Although blockchain found its first use in the financial sector, the agriculture industry shows that blockchain can be applicable within other industries acting as the new “trust machine”. This trust machine is a useful tool for a safer supply chain from farm to fork.

Information asymmetry and a crisis of trust

Serving many functions, agri supply chains are awe-inspiring in terms of complexity. In a highly interrelated, interconnected world, existing IT systems are limited when it comes to understanding and handling such volumes of data. Hence, agrifood companies are highly vulnerable to trace the origin of the problem/fault.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.

All the while, the reputation of the agrifood company can be exponentially negatively affected by the fast pace spreading of information by social media. For example, the horse meat scandal in the UK has drawn a lot of attention to ingredients used in a product. Moreover, consumers are still unable to identify high quality food, due to information asymmetry.

A recent study suggests, that this asymmetry can create market failure, with consumers risking the danger of selecting lower quality, or even unsafe food caused by the absence of reliable information relating to food quality.

This brings to the forefront the demand, and need for consumer-centric supply chain transformation. As companies face mounting demands for traceability from consumers, blockchain emerges as the likely vehicle that can provide integrity and security for the supply chain data.

With blockchain, even the smallest transactions, regardless of where they occur in the supply chain, can be monitored efficiently and communicated.

Building Provenance: real-time, trustworthy data, from supplier to shelf

Companies are now pioneering novel solutions that use blockchain in a wide set of applications; starting from supply chain optimization, fraud detection/prevention, to ensuring transparency, security and trust in products and certificates, as well as, product authentication and brand protection.

Provenance is a UK-based startup, building a blockchain-enabled traceability system in the form of a data platform. The startup partnered with the Soil Association to create the first digitally native organic certification mark. They utilized technology including NFC tags and QR codes to link point-of-sale material with the Provenance platform. Shoppers simply need to scan or hover their phones to see information of their chosen organic product in real time, including the certification’s validity, the organic criteria met by a product, a map of its journey, and photographs from the farm.

A big barrier to mainstream blockchain adoption

Blockchain-enabled technologies may seem like a panacea for a wide range of issues in agriculture and food systems. However, the process of adoption will be gradual and steady, not sudden, as there are also many adoption hurdles that need to be overcome. For example, a blockchain database must store data indefinitely, and from a cost perspective, this is extremely expensive. Moreover, the number of transactions per second is limited.

However, scalability is not the only barrier to adoption of blockchain in agrifood. It is also critically important for all stakeholders along the supply chain to adopt blockchain, albeit all companies and organizations are not equally agile.

 

New Research urges for a coherent focus on sustainable intensification

New Study published by Oxford University press challenges the statement “to feed the world, we need to double food production by 2050.”

A team of researchers lead by Mitchell C. Hunter recently released a study debunking pre-conceived notions that agriculture production needs to increase before 2050. The researches have rather stated that the world needs to specify quantitative targets and focus on introduction of sustainable farming practices across the board.

Achieving such radical yield increase by using the conventional farming intensification methods would require unprecedented output growth and have alarming negative environmental and social impacts. Moreover, the researchers indicate that this push for increase in growth production nurtures a produce-at-all-costs mentality, increasing the already negative aspects of conventional farming.

Hunter’s argument relies on the baseline data that was previously used by U.N Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and University of Minnesota to project the initial required increase in production to reach the overwhelming increase in population. Hunter is not disputing the methods of the original projections, however, emphasises the importance of using the latest data available (notably reconsolidated growth rates achieved in the past years). In turn, by using the latest data available, the team of researchers projects a slightly conservative yield increase of 26-68 percent required, optimistically assuring that requirements could be meet with the current growth pace.  

The study does not negate the projected growth urgency nor does it lessen the support for research and innovation. Quite on the contrary, Hunter and his team call for researchers, farmers, policymakers and AgTech providers to consider introducing sustainable approach to all aspects of agricultural production, as well as focus on specifying quantitative environmental goals (such as reduction of soil erosion, nutrient losses, greenhouse gas emissions, and land conversion) that would counter the negative aspects of production.

Back in 2011, there has also been a push for sustainability in the agriculture sector from National Geographic, leading public academics and largest corporate agriculture stakeholders, including Monsanto, Cargill, and Syngenta.

The global agriculture industry is certainly under pressure to innovate and cater for the expected increase in population in the upcoming years, adhere to rigorous new regulations, compete in ever demanding ecosystem and reduce the ecological footprint. With that in mind, holistic approach is needed that will intensify sustainable agricultural practices. 

Five simple steps to navigating your way into the precision agriculture arena

A range of precision tools – such as zone soil sampling, on-farm weather stations, or highly accurate agronomic recommendations have the potential to significantly aid in increasing productivity and profitability for many farming operations. With increased focus and spending on precision agriculture, “How do I get started in precision farming?” is one of the most often asked questions from farmers.

Getting started in precision agriculture

First, think about your farm’s needs. With accurate, cost effective, and user-friendly technology, farmers are now seeing benefits from micromanaging their fields: from more efficient application of inputs (seed, fertilizer), more effective utilization of tillage equipment, to improved crop and field measurements, and better farm management decisions.

However, you should avoid the rush in piling up both equipment and expenses. Take the time to identify your needs and understand how you would like them to be satisfied. Your situation is unique; therefore, you must thoroughly review all your options when adopting precision agriculture technology and/or practices. Only then will you be able to find an added value solution for your problem areas.

Don’t neglect planning for your farm’s future. To stay on top of the changes as your farm grows, your equipment must allow for upgrades to perform additional applications; also determine the requirements that need to be met for these upgrades to be realized and the associated costs or fees. A simple upgrade should still be significantly cheaper than buying an entry-level product that can’t be easily upgraded to expand with your farming business.

Is the technology compatible with your current and/or future operations? If so, it lets you reduce the costs of precision agriculture technology. For example, a specialized precision agriculture display mounted in the cab of harvest vehicle can also be used for auto-guidance control, monitoring, and adjusting boom height control.

Be mindful of your data. Big data tools bring big opportunities. Advanced precision technology allows farmers to crunch massive volumes of data that can be used to add exactness to the quantity, quality, timing and location of the application and utilization of inputs in both crop and livestock production.

But as big data continues to grow in size and importance, some thorny questions crop up: what kind of data should be used? What data aggregation and sharing is needed to capture essential insights? Who owns the data? Who has the access to this data? Is reuse allowed?

Take enough time to embrace the change in your farming practices. Avoid underestimating the time requirement for the first-time setup. Experts do say there’s a learning curve associated with beginning to use innovative technologies such as precision agriculture technology.

You can use our cost assessment tool to calculate the expected cost of specific products and services.

Moreover, harvesting the benefits of precision agriculture can also take longer than anticipated. But being able to see a financial return of investment in precision technology is an obvious concern for growers. However, as soon as they start thinking technology is just a part of the solution, not the solution, the ROI will be significant. Namely, when it comes to investment, time is really money, and both growers and equipment vendors and/or solution providers must invest both time and money to see how the info they get can be translated to insights.

via GIPHY

Technology itself is not sufficient, always ask for a professional support. In various guises, technology is taking over agriculture. With such a large amount of choices these days, it is that essential vendors and service/solution providers are able to provide full support to their customers, and offer them a carefully tailored precision solution. On the other hand, it is even more crucial for growers to understand how to best use the technologies and various datasets.

Summing up, there is no right or wrong approach to adopting precision farming technology. If you’re in the early stages of adopting precision agriculture technology, consider going simple with equipment that will return you obvious benefits. However, ensure compatibility and flexibility of any piece of precision agriculture equipment for the future: that’s probably the important factor guiding your purchase. Finally, bear in mind it can take time to fully start to experience all the savings and potential increases in yield.

Understanding Precision Ag: What can it do for you?

The world’s population is projected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion before 2050, according to UN FAO, hence an increase in agricultural productivity and production is essential. It is projected that the increase of approximately 25%–70% above current production levels may be sufficient to meet 2050 crop demand.

With the promise of optimizing return on investment while preserving resources, farmers are becoming more and more attracted to an idea of introducing precision agriculture technologies to their farms.

Precision agriculture as a farming management concept, based on observing, measuring and responding, is aimed at enhancing decision making, reducing costs and ultimately increasing yields. Unfortunately, while the benefits behind precision agriculture technology are widely accepted – according to University of Nebraska 95% of all the farmers that adopted the technology indicated the investment in precision agriculture was worth it, the uptake still remains low.

Precision agriculture used as combination of new sensor technologies, satellite navigation and positioning technology, and the Internet of Things, among others, represents the world’s push towards feeding future generations, and here are some of the reason why high-level tech is worth your investment.

Real time parameter monitoring

Introduction of precision agriculture technology enables growers to detect variables that have led to any form of deviation from the predetermined range. Thereby, keeping them constantly updated on the status of their farms (e.g. early warning detection regarding the level of soil moisture, current level of fertilizer present and etc.). Real time monitoring can prevent diseases, infections, soil deterioration, and offer growers information on the most optimum time to plant their seeds, and so achieve optimum performances.

Automated field management systems

With receiving real-time updates from the field, precision agriculture technology providers offer systems that automatically regulate and balance various variables (nutrients, pesticides, nitrates, temperature, leaf and soil moisture, etc.) By implementing such automated systems farmers can reduce maintenance costs (reduce the amount of water, fertilizer, pesticeds, etc) and so efficiently optimize their farms to achieve higher yields.

Time is money, money is time

Automated farm management systems can improve a farmer’s efficiency by reducing time needed to perform one task and so allowing farmers to dedicate themselves to more pressing matters. Additionally, precision agriculture providers offer the ability to access information on various devices at any moment (computer, tablet, mobile phone, etc), so farmers can make quicker decisions and reduce costs.

Minimizing Eco-footprint

Precision Agriculture technology also allows farmers to be more environmental friendly and sustainable. By following such farming practices and applying precision agriculture technology, farmers will not only improve their farm’s efficiency but will also be valued by their local community for implementing environmentally conscious choices.

Agriculture technology providers and their solutions are undeniably shaping the future of agriculture. Solutions already available are disrupting the industry and allowing the users to improve their operations and products, reduce costs and most importantly reach higher yields. Farmers need to get on board by using the latest technologies so they can feed future generations.

Agricultural input use efficiency is the real key to feeding the world

How do we feed a growing population – which some estimate will reach 9 billion in the next 30 years – with minimal eco-footprint? Against widespread belief, shifts in food production systems — a move from conventional to organic agriculture or grass-fed beef – won’t be enough if we’re to stave off irreversible environmental degradation, says a new study based on more than 700 production systems for more than 90 types of food, by University of Minnesota. Rather, the researchers convincingly argue that we should prioritize the adoption of practices that increase yields, productivity, and agricultural input use efficiency.

The world population is expected to increase by 40%, while associated global food production needs are expected to expand by more than 70% to meet growing food and feed demand. One of the challenges we face with feeding a growing population is environmental pressure. Namely, agriculture already accounts for one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions, it is a major land use, and one of the main contributors to air, soil and water pollution.

Indeed, it has been proposed that low-input systems such as organic farming — a system aimed at producing food with minimal harm to ecosystems, animals or humans, could help feed the world. Many people assume that, with organic agriculture, environmental costs tend to be lower, because organic production bans the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In reality, the situation is far more complex.

For their study, Clark and Tilman examined the environmental effects of different systems, crops and input efficiencies, such as feed and fertilizers.

Farmers must combine the benefits of different production systems.

Notably, they discovered that organic systems use less energy, yet require more land to yield the same amount of food, have higher eutrophication (nutrient runoff) potential, and emit similar greenhouse gas emissions as conventional agriculture.

However, the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, does not imply conventional practices are sustainable. Instead, the authors suggest that farmers must combine the benefits of different production systems, for example organic’s reduced reliance on chemicals and soil additives with the high yields of conventional systems, seeking efficiency boosts across the board.

Interestingly, the study also shows that larger dietary shifts, for instance, global adoption of low-meat or vegetarian diets, would directly benefit environmental sustainability and human health.

“It’s essential we take action,” professor Tilman says, “to increase public adoption of low-impact and healthy foods, as well the adoption of low impact, high efficiency agricultural production systems.” In order to do so, it is critical to go beyond the conventional vs organic debate and focus instead on the uptake and development of smarter ways to farm, including the use of new farming technologies.

It is critical to go beyond the conventional vs organic debate and focus instead on the uptake and development of smarter ways to farm.

If changes to diets and farming methods aren’t made, researchers warn, increases in fertilizer and pesticides, greenhouse gas emissions and land clearing will be necessary to feed the planet’s growing populations.

“We must make serious choices, before agricultural activities cause substantial, and potentially irreversible, environmental damage,” concludes Professor Tilman.

ifarma boosting farm management in Southeast Europe

PRAGMATIC recently spoke with a rising star in the farm management space, Vangelis Vassiliadis, CEO of Agrostis, in Thessaloniki, Greece. Agrostis is a Greek startup company that develops new farm and livestock management information systems. We discussed their solutions, the farm management landscape and emerging opportunities as the farming industry in Southeast Europe evolves.

Agri-benchmark: get more from farm data

Agrostis’ core product is ifarma, an integrated cloud and mobile farm management system, designed to solve the pain points that small and medium size farms, individual producers, agronomists and agrifood companies face when trying to optimize their processes and take full control over them. ifarma offers key features for crop management; from planning and farm monitoring activities, financial management and analysis, to inventory and contract management, and farmers group and cooperative management.

ifarma is priced as a monthly subscription based on the number of users. Amongst their high-profile customers are seed producers, fruit and vegetable trade companies, cooperatives, and individual farms in Greece and Cyprus.

Farm data: the next revolution?

Traditionally, farmers have been “on their own” managing their land; nowadays, however, vast amounts of information generated by farm management systems provide unparalleled possibilities for optimized, customized production. But, so far, the data-driven revolution in farming has been slow to catch on.

“Small and medium farmers still don’t have the clear picture about how to turn their data into value,” Vassiliadis says, adding that “they often lack both the capabilities and the resources to fully exploit the data on their own and generate true value.”

It is the industry’s role to create and make ready-to-use products and services that reliably translate data into value for the farmers.

Data governance is another challenge standing in the way of data revolution in agriculture and food. “Data must be proprietary by default, and end-users must be assured that their data will never be supplied to third parties without their consent,” says Vassiliadis.

Facing the future: from agriculture to AgTech

The Ag sector has attracted significant investor interest over the last years, not only in Europe, but across the globe. Global investment in agriculture, from direct equity investments to venture capital funding, has been approximately doubling annually between 2012 ($500m) and 2015 ($4.6bn), AgFunder AgTech Investment Report (2016) says.

Investment in agricultural innovation and technology plays a role in tackling the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population in a sustainable manner. However, according to Vassiliadis, startup companies such as Agrostis still have to embrace a number of challenges and opportunities. This includes a highlighted need for farmer support and training services, as well as helping farmers optimize their profit margin on every acre.

Fertilizing AgTech: timely investments and strategic partnerships

Agrostis has recently secured a FIWARE grant, which allowed the company to continue with the development of new ifarma modules, but also to exploit new business and marketing opportunities in both SEE and wider European markets.

On the business development side, the company has established their own online and direct sales, offering on-spot demos, as well as continuous customer support. They have also run various pilots with production companies and cooperatives, and one of the biggest lessons learnt is one frequently neglected. Namely, in order to have a clear path forward in AgTech, it is critical to promote tangible results.

In search of strategic growth opportunities, the company has also recognized the need for meaningful partnerships and collaborations with both customers and complementary solution and service providers, and is now moving towards the diversifying their portfolio of services.

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The adoption of new technologies has been slow in agriculture and food. “Before being accepted by farmers, any new system or technology should prove itself trustworthy. Long production cycles, typically lasting one year, pose further barriers to quick AgTech adoption. We shouldn’t forget that AgTech is a marathon and not a sprint as it takes long time before any new product or service matures and finds its way to the market,” Vassiliadis concludes.