CategoryAgriculture and Farming

REPOST: Here’s why technology could be a double-edged sword for agriculture

The mechanization of farming has given us high yields that were once impossible to achieve. However, does making agriculture increasingly high-tech always mean better profits for growers? This article from Tech Wire Asia has some interesting thoughts to share:

Singapore’s government wants more innovation in farming, but is it ready? Source: Shutterstock

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the impact of technology and its capability to drive high growth and amazing results in short periods of time, but there’s a big question mark as to whether or not everyone should be jumping in to incorporate the latest and greatest technologies promising the sun and the moon for their bottom lines.

This was especially true when you think about some pretty expensive systems, such as machine learning and automation programs meant to take off the slack on human employees. These are great systems that can have a real monetary cost to them that might not necessarily be beneficial to the company if it results in driving up costs.

Executives and decision makers in companies need to really focus on what tech will work positively for their companies, especially if there isn’t any significant ROI to speak of.

A farm in Singapore drew particular focus on the issue, as the owners battle with whether or not to bring in technologies that could potentially benefit their business. The Jurong Frog Farm, the only place in Singapore that breeds American bullfrogs, is weighing the wisdom of integrating a new recirculating aquaculture system that could help them continue their business should they be moved off their current land when their lease ends.

The problem at the heart of it is that the Singaporean government is implementing a new policy that would weight farmers’ adoption of sustainable and productivity-boosting technologies as a factor in the land-lease bidding process.

Some farms in Norway and overseas are experimenting with indoor farming. Source: Shutterstock

A tender released in August will evaluate bids partly on the basis of these farmers’ ability to harness innovation and sustain production, a challenge for many small, independent farms that may not be able to afford such investments.

According to the farm directors, the aquaculture system – which relies on a single stock of water that is repeatedly treated and recycled – could cost hundreds of thousands of Singaporean dollars as it’ll need to be refitted to suit the needs of a frog farm. Estimates and initial sums indicate that the small farm would not be able to afford such an investment, and it could actually set them back, according to Chelsea Wan who is the director of Jurong Frog Farm.

“Even with government subsidies at implementation, the running cost of such a system might force us to eventually pass on costs to customers, who may simply turn to other farms in the region, which have plenty of land and water,” she said to the Straits Times.

Continue reading HERE.

Do you know where biofuels actually come from?

For many centuries, petroleum has been the world’s most popular source of fuel, whether for heating or for energy generation. However, its unrenewable nature and the undeniable harm that it inflicts to the environment have proven that we needed a better and more sustainable alternative—and this is where biofuel comes in.

Image source: electrochem.org

Many researchers have spent years exploring viable sources as a response to the alarming signs of global climate change. When science and technology came together to answer this demand, a list of unexpected and surprising organic materials stepped up and dominated the scene.

Image source: earthpowernews.com

Corn, for instance, currently produces the biggest supply of biofuel in the United States because of its product, ethanol. However, its category as an agricultural product does not make it a top choice for fuel and many debates have pointed out that taking food and putting it into fuel can be problematic.

Image source: theguardian.com.au

Another viable source of biofuel comes from a very popular water-grown plant, algae. Its nature and where it can be found have made it more practical than its land-based counterparts—especially because it grows amazingly fast. Pond scum and seaweed are not scientifically categorized as plants but 50 percent of their weight is composed of fat and can be rendered into oil to finally produce ethanol.

Image source: hulagirlfoods.com

In the industry of biofuel production, sugar cane has been widely used (second to corn). Usually, it grows in warm countries and its abundance in places like Brazil has made it an essential source of energy, thanks to sugar cane ethanol. Unlike corn and other seed-based fuels, sugar cane utilizes more of the plant.

Image source: extremebiodiesel.com

There are many other developments happening within the biofuel industry and some of them are showing optimistic signs of success. With the planet’s condition worsening, it is about time for mankind to step up and look for viable solutions to prevent our only home in entire galaxy from deteriorating further.

REPOST: Millennials now biggest produce consumers

Young shoppers are on the rise, and it seems like they are making a significant impact on the fresh produce industry. Millennial consumers, according to an article from The Packer, now eat more fruits and vegetables than any other generation. Read more:

Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions specialist at The Oppenheimer Group, spoke to the Midwest Produce Expo as an “In the flesh” millennial about how her generation of millennial consumers respond to marketing and what that means for fresh produce sellers. | Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider

Millennial consumers are driving growth in alternative retail formats and fresh produce marketers must be ready to respond with authentic and relevant marketing messages.

That’s the advice of Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions specialist at The Oppenheimer Group, speaking Aug. 15 at The Packer’s Midwest Produce Expo.

Perkins said millennial consumers support online shopping more than any other generation, and that will increase the influence of online grocery retail in the years ahead. Growth of grocery e-commerce increased 24% in 2016, and studies reveal between 30% and 60% of millennial shoppers purchase groceries online.

Only 4% of fresh produce is purchased online now, she said, but millennial support for online grocery should raise that number considerably in the next five to 10 years.

In terms of shopping habits, millennial consumers tend to have fewer trips to the store but larger average purchases, Perkins said. While produce is often in the shopping basket of millennial consumers, they are slightly less like to plan produce purchases.

“It is key to connect to consumers outside the store,” she said, noting options such as social media and e-mail marketing.

Millennial consumers are more inclined to purchase produce items on impulse and are more engaged with mobile technology, she said.

At 2.7 servings per day, millennial consumers now eat more fruits and vegetables than any other generation, she said.

While 71% of baby boomers use weekly advertising circulars to help them shop, only 38% of millennial shoppers do, Perkins said.

Perkins said that millennial consumers tend to trust recommendations from friends and family. Suppliers should consider setting up a website for shoppers to review their products, she said. While risky, such user reviews are authentic and resonate with millennial shoppers.

Creating appealing websites also is key when trying to connect with millennial consumers, she said.

Commodities like berries kale, Brussels sprouts, avocados and premium apple varieties are a few of the produce items favored by millennial shoppers, influenced by restaurant trends, food bloggers and other influences. Studying the rise of kale among younger shoppers may yield clues on how to increase consumption of all fruits and vegetables, she said.

The most important part of marketing to millennial consumers is telling a story, Perkins said.

Perkins said she working on a grassroots effort to use the hashtag #thisisfreshproduce on all fresh produce related social media posts to introduce more millennial consumers to fresh produce. Perkins also is working on a website and social media accounts related to the hashtag, she said.

 

How farming practices have changed over the decades

Image source: starlanevineyard.com

Agriculture, considered a primary industry, has changed throughout the course of history and it continues to evolve not only to adapt to our way of life but also to respond to the changes of the natural environment through several innovations. From traditional methods that only allow for a few harvest seasons in a year to technologically enhanced practices that made farming a year-round activity, agriculture has gone a long way.

Just like how technology changed the way people do and experience everyday reality, it has also brought many significant milestones to the farming industry. During the 1940s in the rural America, farmers were only able to feed 19 people in a day. With technology and the advancement of agricultural tools and machines, a single farmer can now produce enough food for 155 people.

Image source: farmingmagazine.com

This number is crucial to some regions plagued with drought and famine like Africa. Several factors have contributed to this food shortage problem like climate change, low farm productivity, and overpopulation. However, African social entrepreneurs are starting to look at technology, more specifically digital technology to solve recent issues and predict future challenges, deploying cloud computing, connectivity and open source software to increase yields.

Changes in agricultural education has also risen to the challenge of responding to the signs of time and actively addressing the current problems faced by farmers and the industry as a whole. Unlike the limited courses offered ten years ago, new and better degrees that can benefit agricultural practices are being incorporated to other related studies.

Image source: inhabitat.com

These changes are expected to improve knowledge and awareness on identification of solutions to several farming problems faced by big and small farmers around the world.

REPOST: How renewable farming can solve problems of climate change and conflicts

Environmental sustainability goes far beyond addressing climate change and putting higher emphasis on renewable power. Conventional agricultural activities, which can significantly degrade soil quality and jeopardize water resources, also require serious modifications. Here’s an article on YOURSTORY for more insights:

 

Around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. Credit: Shutterstock

 

Climate change talks are often centred on renewable energy. Nobody talks about making farming renewable. Around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. It emits carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuel required to make chemicals.

Their origin goes back to World War II, when those manufacturing explosives using nitrogen realised that the same could be used to make fertilisers. After the world war, the factories could have shut down but those who had gotten used to profiteering did not want to quit. A whole new science of farming was raised and farmers were told that nitrogen fertilisers are good.

If we give it a thought, our pulses fix nitrogen as well. Their roots have rhizobium bacteria which fix nitrogen and give us good nutrition. But the green revolution did not have pulses. It focused on rice and wheat and the result is for everyone to see. Not only it cheated the earth of its natural nitrogen fixators, shortage of pulses also led to a rise in their prices.

Another means of the emission of greenhouse gases is the industrialised meat industry. In western countries, there are more animals than humans in prison. Cow loves grass, but it is fed soybean. In India, that is how we treat chicken. Estimates suggest that for the production of every single unit of animal protein, we spend 10 times the grain, which is also grown with 10 times more input. In the West, 50 percent food produced is wasted which contributes to methane. So, when you consider all this, half of climate change is due to the type of food system which is dependent on chemical farming and industrial food production.

 

Continue reading HERE.

Restorative gardens: The backyard as a healing sanctuary

Image source: wilko.com

Who would have thought that the humble activity of pruning roses, digging trenches, or planting bulbs can help you live a happier and longer life? The good news is, this activity is accessible to everyone, young and old – and it doesn’t matter if you have that rare ‘green thumb’ or not.

A 2016 research gathered substantial evidence to support the claim that gardening can have long term effects on the overall physical, psychological, and social health of an individual. In addition, the study have concluded that this type of activity can reduce or even prevent several health issues that are common today.

Image source: dohafamily.com

So what are the specific benefits of gardening to our overall well-being?

First, as a physical activity, gardening is estimated to burn 200-500 calories in every hour you spend with your plants. Children and even the elderly can enjoy such benefits that can help maintain a healthy weight and fight the causes of obesity.

Taking care of your plants and home-grown herbs can also contribute to the increase of your bone density – second to weight training. In fact, a recent study has indicated that women who do weekly activities from doing yard work and gardening have higher bone density measurements than those who are inactive.

Aside from its physical benefits, gardening is also one of the best and cost-effective ways to improve one’s mental health especially for mothers with depression. This is because of how gardening immerses them natural and healthy environment while promoting an active engagement in such creative and positive routine.

Image source: motherearthnews.com

In fact, further studies have claimed that sufferers of dementia can rely on horticultural therapy, a non-pharmacological option that helps improve the patient’s attention, reduce stress and help improve their sleep patterns.

Outside health, gardening can also be a potential source of additional income. Hobbyists can channel their passion into business by serving as suppliers to organic restaurants and other local food businesses. Especially with the emergence of the farm-to-table concept, small and independent farmers play a key role in building sustainable businesses. Many of today’s most successful restaurants source their ingredients from local farmers, cutting carbon emissions from long-distance delivery and empowering the lives of small-scale growers.

The rise of farm-to-table restaurant concepts

Everyone in the food industry has seen the increase of the healthy food demand and how consumers nowadays choose fresh and organic products over their genetically modified and preservative-enhanced counterparts. While fast food chains and traditional food houses remain popular, ‘organic’ restaurants are gaining momentum. So what propelled such change?

 

The truth is, experts suggest that the idea of choosing organic and natural is nothing new. It is rather just a comeback of the “real” food—and restaurant owners especially in the U.S. are starting to realize that this food choice trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  This is where the farm-to-table movement entered the scene.

 

Image source: guestofaguest.com

 

The farm-to-table movement in the food business is centered on the rise of home-grown restaurant concept with its key passion of providing sustainable and locally-sourced meals to their customers. In fact, the popularity of this kind of foodservice can be credited to how consumers started to care more about what actually goes into their tummy and where they come from.

 

Going organic and home-grown does not just benefit the industry but also the customers that it serves. For instance, restaurant owners can enjoy a limitless source of creativity in experimenting with different flavors, thanks to the availability of newly grown herbs and other seasonal produce.

 

Image source: timeout.com

 

Choosing organic through a farm-to-table concept for restaurant owners also offer a long list of advantages. Locally-sourced ingredients and home-grown produce give them the opportunity not only to try out new recipes and flavor combinations but also to introduce a whole new set of exceptional food choices.

 

Lastly, having a kitchen garden means emphasizing fresh and healthy servings for your patrons. Most health-conscious consumers prefer homegrown ingredients and locally produced meals for several reasons other than enjoying the benefits of fresh and healthy food consumption. One is, they are able to experience seasonal ingredients and unique flavors that other type of restaurants cannot offer.

 

Image source: travelandleisure.com

 

The food business as a whole is a trillion-dollar industry that is staple to virtually all countries, and in many cases, it defines a specific culture. In the restaurants segment, it is the most popular place for urban residents, employees, entrepreneurs, and even ordinary individuals. With the farm-to-table concept on rise, new trends will eventually emerge and niche investors are always on the lookout to tap into these potentially viable businesses.

REPOST: HDB farmers in a concrete jungle

Ever heard of ‘high rise farmers?’ They are those who live in, well, high-rise residential buildings growing some food either on their terrace or inside their own home. These urban growers make efficient use of space and turn them into edible gardens where they can harvest some of their culinary needs. Here’s an interesting feature from The Straits Times:

Ms Kit Yong with her Sand Ginger herb. She has about 80 pots of plants, and she spends about 15 to 20 minutes watering them every morning. | ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Whoever says you need a big plot of land to be a farmer has never met Ms Kit Yong, 56.

Like 80 per cent of the population, she lives in an HDB flat.

But tell her that you have a craving for the sweet and sour passion fruit and she might tell you to pick one right off a vine outside her flat if the fruit is in season.

The real estate agent grows more than 20 types of vegetables, herbs and fruits – from chye sim and kale to rosemary and passion fruit – along the 20m stretch of corridor outside her Tampines home.

Ms Yong, who estimates she has 80 pots of plants, is a member of a growing community of individuals passionate about farming within an urban setting.

Community gardens, started by the National Parks Board through the Community in Bloom movement, now number close to 1,000. Residents are turning plots of land beside HDB blocks into vegetable and fruit patches.

Continue reading HERE.

Money in the backyard: The economic benefits of organic farming

An old but underrated practice that is now a growing concept for the new millennium, organic farming can be the most practical and healthiest way to boost food production and address food insecurity.

 

Image source: thealternativedaily.com

 

Organic farming is an alternative principle to conventional farming: growing food without the use of synthetic chemicals, artificial fertilizers, genetically modified species, and excessive irrigation. Food insecurity, rapid environmental deterioration, and the rise in the number of people consuming contaminated farm produce made organic farming more popular in recent years. The number of organic growers is rapidly rising and more individuals are finding immense nutritional benefits from eating clean, fresh, and chemical-free farm products.

 

Organic farming has traditionally been viewed as a cost ineffective strategy to producing food—despite its claims for very minimal environmental and health repercussions. Maintenance isn’t cheap and final prices in the markets could be skyrocketing. However, according to a study conducted by the American Society of Agronomy, organic farming is in fact economically sustainable over the long term.

 

“An analysis of 18 years of crop yield and farm management data from a long-term trial, an organic crop rotation was consistently more profitable and carried less risk of low returns than conventional corn and soybean production, even when organic prime premiums were cut by half.”

 

Image source: bigcommerce.com

 

Setting up organic farms can come with a high price tag, especially when advanced technology is employed (such as LED chlorophyll activation). Upfront costs can easily overwhelm any investor and will inevitably drive high product prices once it gets operational.  However, the landscape for organic agriculture is rapidly changing. New farming techniques have been proven to be economically viable and government subsidies are growing. In closed looped organic farms (particularly aquaponics), for example, water is conserved tremendously as it is used in a cyclic but healthy way.  In vertical farms, production is more than tripled when compared to a traditional farm land covering the same area.

 

In regions where strong community relationships exist, organic farms thrive as a private and minimally capitalistic livelihood. Community-based organic farms contribute to good health and nutrition for the population, equal wealth opportunities among farmers, better connections between people (because food is a critical aspect of ethnic cultures), and more liberal decisions for farmers, not corporations, to decide which crops to grow in their farms.

 

Image source: bigcommerce.com

 

There is vast potential within the organic farming community for growers, investors, and consumers to tap into. The industry is yet to peak, but as analysts and experts point out, it can be a lucrative opportunity over the long haul.

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