Farming is going to be the next Manufacturing. Farms, are becoming more like factories: tightly controlled operations for turning out reliable products, immune as far as possible from the vagaries of nature.
By 2050, the planet’s population is likely to rise to 9.7 billion, a rise of 2 billion from now. Along with increase in population, there is a substantial increase in the lifestyle. Those people will not only need to eat, they will want to eat better than people do now, because of higher incomes. Since most land suitable for farming is already farmed, this growth must come from higher yields.
What are the changes happening in the way we grow our food?
1. Protected cultivation: By growing plants in warehouses, shipping containers, and city-adjacent greenhouses, next-gen farmers claim they are able to eliminate the threat of unpredictable weather, waste less water, reduce transportation costs and fasten the production cycle.
2. Data driven agriculture: Farming is becoming a branch of matrix algebra. Farm operations involve a set of variables, such as the weather, soil’s moisture levels and nutrient content, competition to crops from weeds, threats to their health from pests and diseases, and the costs of taking action to deal with these things. If the algebra is done correctly, the yield gets optimised resulting in maximization of profit.
3. Lab grown meat: There may be an even better way to grow meat, the animal tissue most wanted by consumers, than on animals themselves. This means growing the cells in reactor vessels filled with nutrient broth. To make it similar to animal meat, the cells must be attached to fat and other related components, so the idea is to grow them on small spheres floating in the vessels. Fat cells, which add juiciness to meat, are cultured separately. With protein alternatives aimed at big meat eaters it’s best to keep the structure the same as meat but change the nutritional content. Lab burgers, lentils and locusts indicates that it’s a boom-time for the meat-free protein market.
Meat analogues represent less than 1% of the meat market. Alternative meat companies are grappling continuously with how to mimic meat. It is expected to take at least five to 10 years to improve the process and make it cost effective. Commoditizing the cultured – or ‘clean’ – meat may take even longer.
Whether it’s chicken created in the lab, crickets and beetles ground up in energy bars or plant-based burgers that ‘bleed’ there’s no shortage of innovation when it comes to alternative proteins.
4. Synthetic eggs: Researchers are developing synthetic egg white, using transgenic yeast to secrete the required proteins. Indeed, they hope to improve on natural egg white by tweaking the protein mix. They also hope their synthetic white will be acceptable to people vegans and some vegetarians, who do not currently eat eggs.
5. Leather grown using biotechnology: Factory-grown leather promises several advantages over skins taken from animals. One is that it can be made in convenient sheets with straight edges, rather than being constrained by the irregular shapes that animals come in. Another is that it is more consistent than the natural stuff. It is devoid of the scars, marks and other defects to which real skin is inevitably prone. One other advantage of leather manufacturing process is that it permits different parts of a sheet to be given different properties. That can change both the look and the feel of the product in controlled ways. One area might, for instance, be made stiff while another is made soft to manufacture customised products.
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