Precision agriculture involves using the latest tools and methods to attend to the specific needs of small sections of crops. Thanks to innovations in agricultural technology, farmers can make more efficient use of their space and resources, boosting overall crop yields in the process.
The following developments represent just a sampling of the advances currently changing the way farmers produce food for both local and global populations:
Most people assume that farms are exclusively located in rural areas. While that has been true for most of history, thanks to vertical farming, it’s becoming easier to convert urban spaces - such as abandoned warehouses or factories - into miniature indoor farms. This allows farmers to produce quality crops for local urban populations, who would otherwise rely on produce that has been shipped to the city.
As the name suggests, vertical farms maximize their small spaces by planting crops in containers and stacking them on top one another. Currently, the process is better for growing small greens, but as indoor growing methods improve, it may soon be possible to grow robust crops of all sorts in this manner.
If vertical farming continues to develop as an effective approach to agriculture, it may help to offset some of the burden that rural farms carry. Most rural farmers must produce food for large geographic areas. Often, there isn’t enough for everybody. Vertical farms can change this. City-dwellers won’t need to rely on distant farms to transport food long distances. As a result, farms can share more of their food with local populations.
Efficient Pesticide Applicators
Agrochemicals play a key a role in boosting the crop yield of a farm. They ensure that crops receive proper nutrients, are protected against pests, don’t have to compete with neighboring weeds for food, and more. That’s why it’s important or farmers to use them efficiently. The more funds they devote to replenishing their supply of agrochemicals, the less able they are to devote those funds to other components of their farms.
Recent technological developments may help to address this issue. In the United States, the Agricultural Research Service, via their Application Technology Research Unit, recently unveiled a new pesticide applicator that could reduce pesticide usage on farms by 50 percent or more.
Pesticide applicators are frequently imprecise. They can only apply the chemical over a general area of crops, potentially wasting chemicals on crops that don’t need any additional pesticides or insecticides.
This new sprayer accurately identifies the overall size and shape of particular sections of crops. It can apply the correct amounts of agrochemicals in a more precise area. Currently, the tool is designed for trees. Perhaps in the future, similar applicators will offer the same benefits to other types of crops.
Ultrasonic Crop Monitoring
It’s often very difficult for farmers to know what growth stage their crops have reached at any given time. For example, a farm may have several acres of corn. Simply looking at the crops doesn’t offer comprehensive information. Some will have reached their full maturity, while others slightly below the canopy may need additional nutrients, resources, or attention before growing to their maximum potential.
Some researchers believe that ultrasonic technology can offer a solution. Ultrasonic echo signals from corn leaves can identify where the canopy is in a group of crops. This allows farmers to more accurately measure the leaf height of their corn crops. Using this data, they can determine if an area of crops is fully grown.
As the technology improves and spreads to other farms, it could dramatically reduce the amount of time farmers spend on assessing the maturity of their produce. Farms of the future may have what can essentially be thought of as echo-location devices installed throughout them. These monitoring stations will relay information to a farmer about the growth stage of the surrounding crops. If the data indicates that they’ve reached full maturity, a farmer will know it’s time to harvest them. On the other hand, if the data shows that the crops need more time to grow to their maximum potential, the farmer will be able to let them do so before harvesting.
For literally thousands of years, agricultural technology has constantly been improved. With each new tool and method comes greater opportunities for farmers to boost crop yields. If you work in the industry, this means increasing revenue through superior efficiency. For the general population, it means more food for everyone. It’s essential for everyone from potential investors to everyday citizens to remember that better agricultural technology is good for the entire world.
Much has already been said about the way in which the shift from the hunter-gatherer way of life to a more agrarian approach provided the foundation for civilization and society. Unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook the fact that agriculture continues to help today’s nations thrive. While those who work in the agriculture and agrochemicals sector may be well aware of the impact that farms have on a country’s citizens, economy, and infrastructure, people outside the industry can easily overlook certain essential truths.
It’s important not to. Lawmakers - and the citizens who vote for them - must always remember the role that agriculture plays in a nation’s growth. Major points to consider include the following:
Agriculture and the Economy
Among developed nations, Russia has an unusually fast-growing agricultural sector. On the whole, this has had a positive effect on the country’s economy, largely due to the fact that an increased emphasis on farming boosts a nation’s exports. The more food a country can grow, the more food that country can sell to other nations. This general principle applies to any country where agriculture is prioritized.
Within a nation’s borders, farms also contribute to economic growth by providing citizens with employment opportunities. Although there are seemingly countless jobs within the agriculture and agrochemical industries, some of which can be outsourced, the actual work of farming can’t be outsourced to citizens of other countries. The people who manage or tend to a farm must be on the property.
Granted, it is true that technological innovations will almost certainly impact the role that human labor plays on farms. Some farmers already use aerial drones and unmanned agricultural equipment to monitor crops and perform basic tasks that once required a human being. However, that does not mean that farming is at any risk of becoming totally automated. It simply means that there will soon be a shift in the roles that humans play on a farm.
Many have already observed this shift, noting that more farmers are focusing on precision agriculture, a general term referring to the implementation of new techniques, technologies, and methods designed to maximize the growth potential of small sections of crops. Precision agriculture requires human workers to closely monitor crops. As automated equipment continues to take over certain basic tasks, the human labor of a farm won’t become redundant; people will merely take on a different set of responsibilities.
Additionally, people will still be involved in maintaining and repairing all this new equipment, ensuring that agriculture continues to offer jobs to citizens of a given nation.
Improving Infrastructure and Technology
There are several reasons why many farmers have been slow to adopt some of the innovations mentioned above. Poor infrastructure is a main one.
For example, unmanned aerial drones that relay information about the condition of a section of crops rely on mobile networks in order to send that information reliably. Many farms are located in rural areas, where data providers have yet to install sufficient antenna towers. Up until recently, this made sense; in regions with lower population levels, there’s been limited demand for that type of infrastructure.
As more farmers embrace the possibilities of these technological innovations, that will change. Data providers will take notice, installing more towers and boosting the country’s overall mobile telecommunications infrastructure as a result.
It’s also worth remembering that when a nation focuses on a goal requiring technological innovations, there’s often a positive ripple effect. When the United States committed itself to landing a human being on the moon that goal also provided American citizens with the motivation to pursue careers in STEM fields. The United States did eventually send astronauts to the moon, but the technologies developed to put them there had practical applications back on Earth as well.
Improving agricultural technology may not be the type of goal that inspires the same degree of awe and wonder that the space race did, but it does offer nations a way to encourage their brightest minds to develop useful solutions to a range of problems. Innovations developed to boost the efficiency of farms will likely benefit citizens of the country in other ways.
It’s no secret that agriculture is essential to a nation’s growth. If the citizens aren’t fed, the country can’t thrive. Those in power must keep this in mind, but they must also keep in mind that an emphasis on farming can lead to other opportunities for growth.
If you do not work in the agrochemical and agriculture industries, you may not be familiar with the benefits that a career in this sector offers. Too often, people make the mistake of assuming that any sort of “farming work” involves strenuous labor and offers few opportunities for engaging mental work.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While laborers do play an essential role in these industries, they’re not the only ones contributing. Thanks to new agricultural technologies, theories, and approaches, farms are constantly becoming more efficient.
For that process to continue, it’s important that passionate and hard-working people step up and bring their skills to the table, helping to further develop those technologies, theories, and approaches. In this industry, individuals with a wide range of talents and interests often find that the work offers unexpected rewards.
These rewards include the following:
If you work in the agriculture or agrochemical industries, you may frequently work on projects that involve finding or inventing new ways to boost the effectiveness of a chemical, improve the health of a crop, or more efficiently monitor the health of various plants on a farm. The overall goal has always been to increase crop yield, and coming up with new methods of achieving this goal involves substantial mental work.
For some people, this might not sound appealing, but for those who love to solve problems, it’s invigorating. Because approaches to farming are constantly changing, you never encounter prolonged periods of boredom or stagnation. Agriculture specialists agree that there are always ways to improve current methods. Thus, you’ll always have another interesting problem to solve. Having a mentally stimulating career helps promote a sense of fulfillment in life.
As stimulating as a job may be, it won’t be completely fulfilling if you don’t believe in or care about the type of work you’re doing. A sense of meaning is an essential trait in any rewarding career. You want to know that the work you are doing is making some kind of difference in the world.
Fortunately, that’s easy with a career in the agriculture and agrochemical industries. The more food a farmer can grow, the more food there is to share with the global population.
You’re not just helping to eliminate hunger. You’re helping humankind thrive. Before early humans adopted a more agrarian lifestyle, they were hunter-gatherers, exhausting the food sources in one area before moving on to the next. This type of living, which required constant travel and vigilance, left little time for humans to focus on other endeavors, like science, art, and culture.
With the advent of agriculture, humans could finally supply the tribe with a reliable, steady source of food. That meant they had the chance to develop as a true civilization.
That trend continues to this day. When people are well-fed, they can begin to offer their talents to the rest of the species. In the agriculture industry, you’re helping to make that happen.
Few breakthroughs in farming or agrochemicals occur thanks to the efforts of a solitary individual. Developing new farming technologies and processes is a team effort. This is a very appealing type of work for many people.
First of all, it’s rewarding for many to work in an environment that allows for some degree of socializing. However, at some jobs, that socializing takes the form of casual conversations that are unrelated to the actual goals of the company or organization.
That’s not the case in this line of work. If everyone is passionate about, for example, designing a new method of applying fertilizer that reduces waste while also boosting overall growth, their conversations won’t go off that topic. Instead, they’ll spend much of their time enthusiastically talking about the problem and their ideas for potential solutions.
Collaborating with people who are just as excited as you are about the work is an invigorating experience, especially if it means you get to share a sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goals. When those goals are worthwhile - and in the case of agriculture, they almost always are - the experience is even more fulfilling.
Agriculture itself arose as a solution to the problem of keeping people fed. While modern farming is very different from the kind of farming early humans practiced, it still involves working with other talented, dedicated people to solve that same problem. It’s an exciting line of work to be involved in, one which is just as appealing to a budding scientist as it is to a business major.
Regardless of whether or not you think politicians have exerted too much influence over the food served to children at public schools, there’s no denying that young people need proper nutrition. Our bodies develop very rapidly during childhood. Getting the right nutrients is essential to our health, especially early in life.
As such, it’s important that public schools offer nutritious options for lunch, with plenty of fruits and vegetables on the menu. Districts that strive to provide students with locally-grown meals need to be sure they can rely on farms to supply them (or the companies they hire) with abundant, high-quality crops.
Farmers and those who work in the agrochemical industry should keep this mind when developing methods of boosting crop yields. After all, for a school lunch program to benefit students, farms need to meet the following criteria:
Farms Must Make Food Affordable
School districts frequently struggle to find room in their budgets for classroom materials and facilities, let alone healthy meal options. If they’re going to consistently serve fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious items, they’ll need to find a vendor that offers these foods at an affordable price.
Farmers can help by taking steps to boost efficiency. Recent tech innovations indicate that professionals in the agriculture industry are seeking ways to automate some of the more basic farming tasks. By using aerial drones and unmanned farm equipment in their processes, farmers can streamline their approach to growing crops, thereby reducing financial waste. This may lower prices.
If farmers are interested in supplying school districts with crops, they should constantly be looking for ways to save money and improve crop yields. As eager as they may be to help schools provide healthy meal options, they need to keep in mind that districts rarely have disposable funds. When securing a food vendor, schools must actively look for companies and farms that offer the lowest prices for quality food. Farmers who can’t offer low-cost options won’t be able to make inroads into this market.
Farms Must Ensure That Crops Are Reliably Available
Most public school lunch menus remain standard throughout the year. Quite simply, cafeteria staff may not have the time, knowledge, or resources necessary to craft a new menu for each week. Instead, they need easy-to-prepare meals that can be mastered in a short period of time, then served on a regular basis.
Schools looking to expand their selection of healthy options can’t effectively work with farms or companies that deliver an inconsistent supply of fruits and vegetables. This brings us to the next essential quality farmers must develop: the ability to grow abundant crops reliably.
Anyone who works in agriculture knows that there are a great many factors that a farmer can’t control. These factors may include, but are not limited to, weather patterns, climate, and wildlife behavior. All of these have an undeniable effect on the amount of food a given farmer can grow.
However, there are many steps farmers can take to achieve a greater degree of control over crop yield. Along with implementing new technologies, these steps include making sure that the necessary agrochemicals have been appropriately applied to all crops. While growers can’t decide whether or not a drought will occur, farmers can protect their crops from pests, disease, and competing plants. By taking a proactive approach to this aspect of farming, growers will be much more likely to produce a consistent amount of food.
Often overlooked by students as a potential field of study, the agriculture and agrochemicals industry is in fact always in need of bright, young minds to develop new farming technologies and methodologies to keep pace with the world’s growing population.
Agriculture requires regular innovation. The more food a farmer can grow, the more food there is to be shared among the global population. And the pace of that innovation depends on the quality of the talent in the industry.
On the one hand, stories about young Americans like Sawyer Phillips—a high school senior who plans on studying agriculture in college—indicate that there is still a reasonable degree of interest in farming among at least some youths. That said, Phillips grew up on a family farm. He has firsthand knowledge about the realities of the industry.
Not all students are so fortunate. Although their particular strengths and passions may make them ideal candidates for a degree in agriculture, they’ve likely been deprived of the opportunity to learn about this field. Thus, they may never pursue the careers they’re most suited to. Everyone is worse off for it.
It’s important for anyone currently working in the industry to remember this. It’s also important to look for ways to educate those who might otherwise not have the chance to about the many different types of jobs available to them in the fields of agriculture or agrochemicals.
For example, educators at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln recently organized an expo designed to teach younger students about the connection between science and agriculture. Rather than lecturing to them about the important role scientists play in the industry, the instructors designed the expo to be an interactive experience, likely because today’s youth are exposed to more exciting forms of stimuli than ever before. Due to the constant access to TV, video games, and smartphones, lessons are more apt to succeed when they’re delivered in a hands-on manner. That was likely the thinking behind this expo, and it’s the kind of thinking that will help those interested in teaching children about farming.
Luckily, this shift towards new, stimulating approaches to pedagogy is perfect for teaching agriculture. Whether you’re out in the field testing a new agrochemical, working at a lab to develop stronger fertilizer, or engineering a more efficient tractor, by its very nature the work demands a direct approach.
In regions where universities offer prominent agriculture degree programs, educators and other members of the industry should consider organizing expos similar to the one held by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. For event planners, it’s important to remember that the more interactive the expo is, the easier it will be to demonstrate to students just how interesting farming can be.
For those who don’t have the time or resources to organize a full event, there are still other ways for schools to reach out to young people. While some schools may not have any faculty members well-versed enough in agriculture to design and implement lessons on the subject, members of the industry can help by contacting local schools in their area. They can explain who they are, outline the benefits children enjoy when they learn about agriculture, and offer to help create curricula or organize a program designed to give students a more thorough understanding of farming.
Perhaps the school, with help from someone in the industry, can host an agriculture-themed science fair. With the right resources, they might create a club for students interested in learning more about farming outside of school.
There are many ways in which educators, farmers, and everyone else involved in agriculture can help young people better understand the types of opportunities available to them in this field. Those who work in the industry already know how important it is to keep attracting young, dedicated people. By collaborating with like-minded individuals, they’ll be doing their part to ensure that farms continue to thrive well into the future.
A frequent theme of this blog is the role of new technology in agriculture and more specifically how unmanned vehicles and aerial drones will make it easier for farmers to boost their overall crop yield. The new technologies will be good for everyone. Improved farming methods will enable more food production to keep pace with the world’s growing population.
However, the topic of agricultural technology inevitably leads to one underlying question: What kind of impact will these new technologies have on farm labor?
The Impact of Automation
It’s an understandable concern. Across many industries, automation has eliminated a number of jobs over the years, and it will likely will continue to do so. While unmanned agricultural equipment may improve the overall efficiency of farms, it could mean that manual labor is no longer necessary.
While that’s a fair way of considering the issue, it’s not the only way. After all, there is often a misconception about how easy it is for farmers to find workers. In the United States, for example, some farmers have discovered that many citizens actually aren’t willing to take on that kind of physically demanding work. As a result, they have to hire H-2A workers instead.
H-2A workers are not technically citizens of the United States, nor are they immigrants. They come to the United States for seasonal employment and return to their home countries when they are not working. Generally, they are more willing to endure the arduous nature of farming.
Hiring H-2A Workers Can Be Difficult
The problem is that hiring them can be difficult. Checks are checks put in place to ensure that they do not remain in the country for longer than their allotted time, and the process of hiring them through this system can be time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, some farms do not offer enough seasonal work to qualify for the program. As a result, they are stuck looking for workers who are citizens. Often, they come up short.
Add in the fact that policies relating to non-immigrant workers are constantly shifting in most countries, and it can be difficult to find enough workers in this industry.
More automated machinery could provide a solution to this dilemma. Basic tasks that would have required a human could now essentially be performed by a robot. Rather than giving farmers a reason to reduce their workforce, the increased efficiency would allow them to use their workers more effectively. In recent years, precision agriculture has been a hot topic in the industry. Farmers are continuing to develop new methods of addressing the specific needs of a small section of crops. The approach boosts crop yields while limiting the amount of wasted resources, which may include fertilizer and pesticides.
Machines Could Make Farming Less Labor-Intensive
In order to be effective, precision agriculture techniques often require a person to carefully evaluate the condition of a given crop and address any nutritional deficiencies. With machines tending to the mundane tasks, farm workers can now aid in this process. Doing so will actually make farming significantly less labor-intensive. As a result, more people will be willing to take on farming jobs.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that these new machines will need to be manufactured, maintained, and repaired. Such work will still have to be performed by humans. In fact, the odds are good that the implementation of these tools will be positive for every farm’s workforce.
Farmers Continue to Struggle to Find Workers
By helping farmers to grow more food and increase their revenue, machines will enable them to hire additional workers. Again, farmers are struggling to find workers as it is. With more funds at their disposal, they will be far more likely to expand their operations. Think of a farm like a growing company. When a new tool comes along that makes the company substantially more productive, that company doesn’t shrink in size. Instead, it grows and provides more jobs as a result.
That’s not to mention the fact that increased revenue for farms is better for the general economy of a region, since more people will have money to spend. While it is certainly fair to be concerned about how new agricultural technologies will eliminate the need for manual labor, the farming industry is one example in which the opposite would appear to be true. Consider that farmers are having a difficult time finding humans to do these jobs. Rather than become pessimistic about how machines will affect the agricultural workers, it’s better to be optimistic. When farmers are no longer struggling to maintain a full workforce, they can devote more energy to serving their communities.
A.G. Kawamura, California’s former secretary of agriculture, recently spoke about the importance of farming at the Nebraska Innovation Campus.
Many Americans have taken the agriculture industry for granted due to the general abundance of food available in the United States. As a result, Kawamura warned against falling prey to the idea that relying on conventional farming methods will always yield enough food for the population.
There have always been parts of the world where food is scarce. Rising populations, combined with the unpredictability of droughts and similar climate issues, could dramatically change the status quo without warning.
Agriculture’s Impact on Civilization
“Successful agriculture sustains civilization,” Kawamura said. “We don’t have to talk about what kind of agriculture it is, as long as it’s successful. That should be our focus right now.”
Kawamura makes an important point. Agriculture serves as the foundation upon which societies build and thrive. It’s impossible to pursue innovations in the arts, sciences, and any other field if your people aren’t fed. By addressing the basic needs of a society, farms allow civilization to flourish. If humankind is going to continue developing as a species, we’ll need to be certain that our methods of farming remain as effective as possible.
“Effective” is the key word in that statement. Kawamura would seem to agree. It’s no secret that there are many different approaches to farming. As technologies like aerial drones and unmanned equipment become more widely utilized, that will only be more evident. Nations should seek to identify and implement those methods that reliably yield the most amount of food for the greatest number of people.
Embracing New Agricultural Methods Is Crucial
That might mean adapting to new ways of thinking about agriculture. It could even mean preparing for another agricultural revolution. As Kawamura said, “It’s time for a global reset button,” adding, “We’re in a new age of agriculture. The pace of new knowledge and new thinking that is taking place is unbelievable.”
He’s right. Thanks to recent developments in areas like precision agriculture, farmers have recently discovered new ways to grow more crops. These methods could be regarded as vastly superior to those that came before.
Unfortunately, agriculture isn’t a topic that the average citizen thinks much about. As long as the existing farms continue to produce a dependable amount of food for their consumption, it’s easy for people to fail to consider where the food comes from. They may also forget that we still need to innovate in order to feed the world in the coming years.
For example, many of the techniques that fall under the heading of “precision agriculture” - essentially an approach to farming that involves very closely monitoring and addressing the individual needs of smaller groups of crops - require farmers to have access to special tools. In many (if not all) countries, the existing agricultural infrastructure doesn’t support the widespread implementation of these methods, despite their efficiency.
Government Contributions and Educational Outreach Will Be Crucial to Advancement
While some independent farmers may be able to afford the tools that they need to grow crops with greater precision, many others won’t. If citizens were informed of the benefits, they may see the value in governments contributing to the upgrade of existing infrastructure. Again, a new agricultural revolution could very well be starting. The countries that will benefit most will be those most prepared to embrace it.
With this in mind, Kawamura stressed the role of education in helping to spur innovation and public interest. Rather than urging listeners to rely on schools to make the needed curricular changes, Kawamura encouraged those working in the agriculture and agrochemical industries to work on cultivating this interest themselves.
“We need to produce excitement and enthusiasm globally about these goals to get everybody from around the world involved in this outcome we call the future.”
Although his statements may sound melodramatic to an outsider, to anyone who has worked in this industry, they sound entirely reasonable. Nations thrive based on how effective their agricultural methods are. Nations should not assume that the global, social landscape will remain static - it never does. Further, they should not assume that there are no farming methods more efficient than those that are already in use - nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, it’s essential that world leaders focus on staying abreast of developments in the industry. Doing so could have genuine historical significance going forward, as the new agricultural revolution unfolds.
One of the most important aspects of any culture is the food. Due to air freight, it’s now possible to enjoy food from just about any region.
True, this is convenient. However, in recent years, many professional chefs—as well as their customers—have returned to a more traditional approach to cooking. For a large part of human history, people ate only the food that was available to them locally. That’s how particular regional cuisines developed, after all. People used those ingredients that they had immediate access to instead of those that could be flown in.
In an effort to preserve the culinary traditions of the world, there has been a push to focus more on farm-to-table cooking in which chefs plan their menus based on the food that’s available from local farms.
Farm-to-Table Movement Grows
Partially, this impulse has to do with the main preoccupation of most professional chefs, food critics, and culinary enthusiasts: flavor. While we are fortunate to live in an age where it’s possible to preserve and transport food to virtually any part of the globe in hours, many feel that fresh food grown locally simply tastes better.
However, that’s not the only reason why the farm-to-table movement has grown in popularity. Regional cuisine is an essential reflection of the part of the world from which it originates. A great meal does not merely taste good. It embodies the spirit of the people who first crafted and perfected the recipe. Smart chefs understand this, and that’s why many of them are starting to change the way they plan their menus. Rather than trying to craft delicious meals using whatever ingredients they wish, they are limiting themselves to ingredients from local farms. While this in turn forces chefs to be more creative, it also allows them to serve meals that capture the essence of a region.
Agrochemicals Play An Important Role in Society
This is yet another reason why agrochemicals play an important role in society. They protect crops from disease, pests, and other crops competing for resources. The more effective they are, the more food a farmer can grow. The benefits of this practice from a culinary perspective are obvious, but two in particular are especially worth highlighting.
First of all, a chef cannot create a successful restaurant using fresh, locally sourced ingredients if they are not readily available. The more crops that a farmer can grow, the easier it is for a chef to plan and execute a farm-to-table cooking strategy with a consistent menu.
More importantly, when farmers are preoccupied with keeping their crops healthy, they cannot necessarily focus on other priorities. They devote so much time and energy to simply growing a reasonable amount of food that they do not have the time and energy to concern themselves with the actual quality of the food.
Cultivating Healthy and Flavorful Crops
Agrochemicals change this situation. They make it much easier to protect crops and boost their overall growth. This gives farmers the opportunity to work on cultivating the healthiest and most flavorful crops that they can. Chefs who adopt a farm-to-table approach very often work closely with local farmers to develop farming methods that result in not only abundant, but robust and delicious crops, as well.
If local farmers must concentrate too much on simply keeping their crops alive, then they won’t be able to collaborate with chefs in this respect. By using the right products, they can shift their focus and begin to take the flavor of the food into account.
Spreading and Celebrating Culture
This is yet another example of how the agriculture and agrochemical industries help to spread and celebrate culture. As has been mentioned before on this blog, agriculture allowed early human tribes to develop art, music, religion, and other staples of culture that were far more difficult to develop for hunter-gatherer tribes. Rather than focusing solely on securing a food source in a given region, they could pursue other interests and endeavors. In some respects, the shift to an agrarian style of living allowed for the very idea of culture to come into existence in the first place.
While we may be very far removed from those ancient ancestors in some respects, in other ways we are still very similar. We still rely on farms to provide us with our food and to help us grow, enrich, and share our cultural traditions. Again, the farm-to-table movement is not just about serving flavorful meals. It is about giving people the opportunity to rediscover the classic, locally focused cuisine of their own region. Without agrochemicals to protect the crops that these recipes and meals rely on, we would not have the opportunity to do so.
Agriculture—and, for that matter, agrochemicals—serve as the essential foundation upon which human civilization built itself. Prior to the rise of agrarian societies, most early human ancestors were hunter-gatherers, exhausting the resources in one area and moving on to the next. This nomadic lifestyle left little time for the development of science, art, or the numerous other fundamentals of culture that we so easily take for granted.
When tribes first discovered the principles of agriculture, they were finally able to settle in one location. This gave them the opportunity to focus more attention on other endeavors. Without farms, humans would have never built cities. We would have never established trade networks connecting our various societies and nations. And we certainly would have never developed the innovations necessary for space travel.
Permanent extraterrestrial colonies
Now, we find ourselves at yet another major turning point in the history of human civilization. NASA and other space agencies, including independent organizations such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have announced plans to land a human on Mars within the coming decades. These initial missions would theoretically serve as the first of many, as humans begin to establish permanent extraterrestrial colonies.
While it may sound like science-fiction, it’s no longer reasonable to dismiss these claims. Humans are almost certainly going to visit Mars in the near future.
Of course, when they get there, they’ll need a reliable food source. That’s why this isn’t just a critical time for people involved in space exploration—it’s also a critical time for people involved in agriculture. In order to sustain a colony on another planet, the agencies organizing these missions will need help from the brightest thinkers in the industry. You can’t stay on Mars if you can’t grow food there.
Creating a ‘Mars Oasis’
Elon Musk’s plan for what he calls a “Mars Oasis” addresses this concern directly. Potential timelines for an eventual manned mission include an early mission that would involve transporting a small greenhouse to Mars, with nutrients and plants aboard. Engineers would devise a method to ensure that the plants do not begin growing until the greenhouse reaches the surface of Mars. Monitoring their growth cycle remotely from our planet, researchers would have the ability to gather information about the prospects and challenges of cultivating food in a Martian colony.
The researchers will need input from agricultural experts to come up with the most effective solutions to this problem. The essential challenge of the issue involves finding a way to alter a portion of the Martian soil so that it mimics the soil we have on Earth. Although films such as The Martian gloss over this barrier by depicting a few smart people arriving at basic solutions, experts agree that actually achieving this goal will be far from simple. However, they also agree that it can and will be done.
Accounting for gravity differences
Converting the barren Mars soil into nutrient, life-sustaining earth is just one part of the problem, though. Mars receives significantly less sunlight than we do. Colonists will either need to rely on plants that have been engineered to thrive with less exposure to the sun, or they’ll have to use artificial lighting sources to compensate for the difference. They might also need to account for gravity differences, which could theoretically keep plants from growing in the Martian atmosphere.
Then there’s the radiation problem.
Earth is protected from the sun’s radiation due to its remarkably thick atmosphere, a quality that’s not shared by any other planet in the solar system. Some experts believe that the atmosphere of Mars won’t be sufficient to protect crops. Any greenhouse that the first Martian colonists use for growing food will have to be strong enough to block the radiation that could otherwise decimate any plant life.
Creating the first farm on Mars
In other words, starting the first farm on Mars is going to be very difficult. However, people who work in the agriculture and agrochemical industries are used to tackling extremely difficult projects. Throughout nearly all of human history, farmers have encountered these types of problems in one form or another. While no one has ever tried to grow food on another planet before, they have had to grow food in an inhospitable climate, in regions where pests or diseases have threatened crops, and in areas where the soil was barely fertile enough to support even meager plant life.
Yet, they’ve always managed to overcome these obstacles. As visionaries continue to strive towards the eventual goal of establishing a permanent human colony on Mars, agriculture experts have an opportunity to make a major contribution to the history of the human species.
It’s a very exciting time to be a farmer.
Regular readers of this blog know that it often touches on several recurring topics. One of them is the need for smart young people to join the agriculture and agrochemical industries. Some people assume that these fields are shrinking, but actually, experts expect to see a surge of new jobs in the coming years. For those who recently graduated college or will be graduating soon and are unsure of what their next step should be, it’s a good idea to explore a career in agriculture.
According to a 2015 announcement from former United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, close to 60,000 new jobs are expected to open up each year in the agriculture and related industries in the United States alone. A report from Purdue University and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture indicates that more than half of those jobs are filled by college graduates with specialized skills and training. A commonly held myth about farming is that most people in the industry lack any formal training or higher education, but nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the field of agriculture, there are literally thousands of roles available to college graduates.
Perhaps even more interestingly, statistics indicate that only slightly more than half of those roles are filled by graduates who studied a subject closely related to agriculture while pursuing their degree. While a background in the field may be useful to have, it’s still entirely possible to thrive in this line of work without having learned much about it in school. If you’re able to learn fast and tackle new challenges, you can find a way to make yourself valuable.
One of the reasons people who haven’t studied agriculture still find rewarding jobs in the industry is simple: there are many different roles to fill, requiring a pool of job candidates representing a wide variety of talents and areas of expertise.
For example, you may not have had much interest in the science of farming during your time as a student, but you may have been drawn to innovations in mobile technology. People with these types of interests have found recent success in the field of agriculture and agrochemicals.
Farmers are always looking for ways to maximize their crop yield. This isn’t simply because doing so allows them to make more money. The fact is, the more food they can grow, the more food there is to share with the global population. When they boost their crop yield, the entire community benefits.
In their efforts to grow more food, farmers have turned to a number of technological innovations to facilitate more precise methods of cultivating and protecting their crops. Many now use aerial drones to get a bird’s-eye view of their fields (and, perhaps one day, to distribute agrochemicals), unmanned tractors and similar farming equipment to complete work more efficiently, and even remote monitoring stations to keep a close eye on how healthy their crops are.
Although the application of these tools has occurred only fairly recently, evidence suggests that the trend won’t be slowing down anytime soon. As such, farmers will need technologically minded people to design more effective machines and programs and come up with the best possible ways to apply them.
This is just one example of the kind of role you could find in the agriculture industry, even if you didn’t study a subject directly related to it. The point is, no matter where your interests and talents lie, you’ll still have the opportunity to forge a career in agriculture.
Students are often idealistic people. They may seek a career that rewards them financially, allows them to put their skills to good use, and makes the world a better place.
While humankind has come a long way since the first hunter-gatherer tribes began to adopt a more agrarian lifestyle, we still rely on farms to supply us with our food. By working in agriculture, a young person can have the chance to contribute to the global community, using their expertise to help in the fight against hunger. The stimulating, interesting work is just an added bonus.
If you’re looking for an industry that will give you a sense of purpose but requires drive and intelligence as well, look into the kind of work you could do in the agrochemical or agriculture industries. With a creative application of your education or talents, you could find a perfect fit.