From the foods we eat to the clothes we wear, nearly everything we use and consume has plant-based origins. In fact, the value chain for consumer goods often begins before the plants are even grown, in seeds and soil.
It’s obvious that plants are necessary for life, and necessary for commerce. Whether plants are grown as food for us, feed for farmed animals, fibers for industry, or oils for our beauty and fragrance products, nearly everything we buy and use started life in the soil. This is why principles of sustainability, conservation, and preservation need to be carefully considered in every single supply chain in every single industry, and your local corn or weed field is increasingly powered by the most cutting edge technologies.
A Closer Look at Sustainability Technologies in Agriculture
Technology-enabled precision agriculture is aimed at creating higher yields from existing agricultural land, rather than expanding agricultural areas. Precision agriculture can help to improve sustainability, biodiversity, and protect natural, uncultivated ecosystems around the world. Precision agriculture relies on precise analysis of temporal, spatial, and geographic data to provide exactly the right interventions at the right time, reducing inputs and residue and improving output. Some of the tools of precision agriculture include:
- GPS-enabled soil sampling. Precisely located soil samples allow farmers to measure soil differences within a field and plan accordingly, optimizing seeding and feeding.
- Precision sensors. Sensors can measure soil moisture, plant stress, and other factors, and send real-time crop data to a farmer’s phone.
- Drones and surveillance. High resolution cameras and modern computer vision can monitor fields for agricultural pests, identifying the type of pest and the best intervention. Accurate, species- and life-cycle-specific data reduces the use of broadly targeted pesticides.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on improving soil fertility by promoting biodiversity, cultivating healthy microclimates, and minimizing tilling. Regenerative agriculture focuses on connected, holistic cultivation, using permaculture and polyculture, along with natural sequencing, habitat for beneficial species, compost, and managed grazing to improve productivity without harming the ecosystem. Despite this firm foundation in balanced and natural agriculture, regenerative agriculture also benefits from advanced AgTech, using soil sensors, surveillance, and more. Cloud-based AI algorithms that analyze soil conditions, terrain, and weather patterns, combining current and historical data, are helping farmers and food producers make more intelligent decisions every day.
Regenerative agriculture has a host of environmental benefits, but perhaps the greatest impact of these farming techniques is that they are capable of capturing and sequestering enormous amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Regenerative agriculture could offset more than 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, without affecting food quality or supply.
Consumer Packaged Goods is a notoriously high carbon industry, but 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of environmental impact are in the industry’s supply chain, rather than in its operations. And yet, in 2015, only 25% of these companies actually engaged suppliers in their sustainability efforts. Efforts are further hampered by a lack of transparency, because the food value chain is a complex network of growers, agents, traders, processors, and retailers that sometimes obscures the products’ origin and impacts. These large networks often have the unintended side effect of diffusing social responsibility, where no individual entity can take ownership of the supply chain and its effects.
To help companies and supply chain managers evaluate their sustainability efforts, organizations like WWF, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, TSC, and the CDP and Global Reporting Initiative have developed standards, metrics, and sustainability indicators for various commodity supply chains. For individual farmers, tools like BASF’s AgBalance and the USDA’s COMET-Planner analyze a farm’s social, environmental, and economic impact for a comprehensive assessment and recommended improvements. These tools aim to provide accurate data so that realistic assessments can be made, and improvements can be implemented where they have the most beneficial impact.
From the companies who produce seeds and fertilizers, to the farmers who grow our plants, to the networks that process and distribute agriculture products, to the companies who create and package food products, to the retailers who stock them on our shelves, everyone has a vital role to play in the food value chain. And throughout that process, improvements can be made in sustainability and environmental impact. Grapefrute is proud to work with world-leading companies who are committed to the future of the planet, and to support a new generation of professionals who will do this critical work.