The population of the planet will be around nine billion by the year 2050, and there are already concerns about how to keep everyone fed and happy when this happens. Our farms have worked pretty well for us in their current forms, but they’ll need to change and become way more efficient if we’re to avert worldwide hunger.
We need to grow more food and raise more animals in a smaller space and so the next few decades may see the rise (no pun intended) of vertical, or multi-storey, farms and even urban farms.
One of the most ground-breaking ideas is using aeroponic farming systems so that the maximum amount of crop can be grown in a smaller area; even in urban areas where there’s little to no free land.
These innovative systems don’t need soil because the nutrients are sprayed or trickled directly to the roots of the plants as they grow. In aeroponics, the rows of plants are stacked on top of one another. You might think that this would prevent sunlight from reaching the lower layers, but they are all moved around by conveyor belts and long-lasting heavy duty chains. There’s little water waste here, too, as the water “targets” the roots. Having a closed system will also help to reduce the number of pest insects and therefore reduce the amount of pesticides needed.
The Polydome project
Agricultural scientists are working together, with the help of European Union (EU) funding, to find a solution to the impending food supply crisis and there are some brilliant ideas. One of the more achievable concepts is the Polydome, in which a greenhouse-type farm produces animals and crops within its individual biome or ecosystem. What’s great is that there’s very little need for artificial fertilisers as any animal waste goes directly to the plants
Under optimum conditions, a Polydome could produce anything up to 90kg of food – animal and plant – per square metre. All this food would be pesticide- and artificial fertiliser-free and it one hectare’s produce would be enough to feed 5,000 people each year! Compare this to current annual EU wheat yields, which are around 0.5kg per square metre, or potatoes, which manage just over 3kg per square metre.
Growing crops and raising animals within a dome will be especially useful because the growing seasons can be lengthened by the artificial lighting. This tech will allow farmers in the far north to grow all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables that they couldn’t grow before. If there are farmers in Norway growing papaya, think of the air miles this will save! One thing about farming is that it produces lots of CO2, so anything that reduces this will be more than welcome!
Will people trust this?
Of course, some people may feel a bit nervous about eating the fruit, vegetables and meat produced in these new farming systems, but hopefully they’ll come to trust it, especially if there are high-quality public information programmes behind it. They’ll need to accept the new farms, because there are very real concerns behind these innovations.