Recent trends in Agriculture
Organic farming also known as ecological agriculture8 or biodynamic agriculture,9 works in harmony with nature i.e. the agricultural practices followed in organic agriculture do not cause any harm to the environment. Due to eco-friendly nature of the organic farming it is considered as an viable alternative in comparison to chemical based farming, in a scenario where excessive use of chemical based fertilizers and pesticides have raised the concerns for ecotoxicity and health hazards. Nutrient management in organic agriculture is based on agronomic practices like crop rotations, soil fertility building via nitrogen and nutrient recycling using organic material like crop residues, farmyard manure and minimization of use of chemical based fertilizers.Control of pest populations in organic farming relies on use of resistant crops, crop rotation, increase in predators for natural control of the pests and increase in genetic diversity along with the judicious use of water resources and animal husbandry.
While extensive use of pesticides and fertilisers increase crop production, they also create the burning issues relevant to food quality. That’s why, the modern world has begun to focus on food quality not quantity, and is shifting towards organic agriculture.
Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and improves health of agro ecosystem including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity.Organic fertilisers include animal and green manure, fish and bone meal, and compost.
And the organic pest management focuses on prevention through such method as: growing resistant varieties of crops and in the proper season of the variety; improving soil health to resist soil pathogens and promote plant growth; rotating crops; encouraging natural biological agents for control of disease, insects and weeds; using physical barriers for protection from insects, birds and animals; modifying habitat to encourage pollinators and natural enemies of pests etc.
Today, insect pest management in organic agriculture involves the adoption of scientifically based and ecologically sound strategies as specified by the international and national organic production standards. These include a ban on synthetic insecticides and, more recently, on growing curbs on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The General Assembly of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements has approved four principles of organic agriculture: health, ecology, fairness and care.
Principles apply to agriculture in the broadest sense, including the way people tend soils, water, plants and animals in order to produce, prepare and distribute goods. They are concerned the way people interact with living landscapes, relate to one another and shape the legacy of future generations. Each principle is followed by an action oriented explanation.
Various techniques are utilised for farming organically, some extensively, others rarely. Biodynamic farming stress biological methods in regard to humane treatment of animals, food quality and soil health (such as green manures, cover crops and composting).
The other method is natural farming. There is no water, no pesticide, no fertiliser and no herbicide utilisation except seed sowing. It is also known as ecological farming solely established by a Japanese farmer. Another farming practice is principally ‘bio intensive,’ which uses low energy input, fosters healthy soils, and conserves space, while maximising yields and increasing sustainability. Some others are permaculture, no-tilling and holistic management etc.
The issue has also to be seen in the context of gross domestic product (GDP) which is supposed to measure the wealth of nations and has emerged as the dominant concept in our times. However, economic growth hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature, which, in turn, tends to deprive communities of the capacity to provide livelihood for themselves.
Organic products are usually more expensive than ‘conventional’ agricultural products because there is an ‘extra cost’, called ‘organic premium’ to be paid in addition to the ‘reference price’. Some of the key factors that make organic products expensive include health and nutritional concerns, superior taste, food-safety concerns, and environmental friendliness. Consumer’s willingness to pay more represents a price premium for environmental quality and health.
However, when a farmer starts organic farming, the land, soil and the environment is not as good as it should be. With the organic farming practices over time, the land and environment becomes poison-free and totally healthy for growing of healthy crops, and farmer also acquires experience of organic farming.
So, on the start of almost fifth year, organic farming gives outcomes comparable with modern synthetic agricultural practices. If we critically compare the inputs, we come to know, as no synthetic fertiliser and pesticide is added, the organic farming requires less cost. On the other hand, due to its premium quality, it is sold at 3-4 times higher prices than other produces and farmers earn 3-4 times more profit.
The agriculture sector in India has witnessed a considerable decline in the use of animal and human power in agriculture related activities. The trend has paved a way for a range of agricultural tools. A large number of these are driven by fossil fuel operated Though, farm mechanization in India stands at about 40%-45%, which is still low when compared to countries such as the U.S. (95%), Brazil (75%) and China (57%). While the level of mechanization lags behind other developed countries, it has seen strong growth through the last decade.The farm power availability on Indian farms has grown from 1.47 kW/ha in 2005-06 to 2.02 kW/ha in 2013-14.
In India, the level of mechanization varies greatly by region. States in the north such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have high level of mechanization due to the highly productive land in the region as well as a declining labor force. The state governments in these states have also provided timely support in promoting mechanization of farms.
Vertical farming is the practice of producing food on vertically inclined surfaces. Instead of farming vegetables and other foods on a single level, such as in a field or a greenhouse, this method produces foods in vertically stacked layers commonly integrated into other structures like a skyscraper, shipping container or repurposed warehouse.
Using Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology, this modern idea uses indoor farming techniques. The artificial control of temperature, light, humidity, and gases makes producing foods and medicine indoor possible. In many ways, vertical farming is similar to greenhouses where metal reflectors and artificial lighting augment natural sunlight. The primary goal of vertical farming is maximizing crops output in a limited space.
How Vertical Farming Works
There are four critical areas in understanding how vertical farming works: 1. Physical layout, 2. Lighting, 3. Growing medium, and 4. Sustainability features.
Firstly, the primary goal of vertical farming is producing more foods per square meter. To accomplish this goal, crops are cultivated in stacked layers in a tower life structure. Secondly, a perfect combination of natural and artificial lights is used to maintain the perfect light level in the room. Technologies such as rotating beds are used to improve lighting efficiency.
Thirdly, instead of soil, aeroponic, aquaponic or hydroponic growing mediums are used. Peat moss or coconut husks and similar non-soil mediums are very common in vertical farming. Finally, the vertical farming method uses various sustainability features to offset the energy cost of farming. In fact, vertical farming uses 95% less water.3
Advantages and Disadvantages of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming has a lot of promise and sounds like the farm of the future. However, there are a few stumbling blocks to consider before rushing full-speed ahead into vertical farming.
- It offers a plan to handle future food demands
- It allows crops to grow year-round
- It uses significantly less water
- Weather doesn’t affect the crops
- More organic crops can be grown
- There is less exposure to chemicals and disease
- It could be very costly to build and economic feasibility studies haven’t yet been completed
- Pollination would be very difficult and costly
- It would involve higher labor costs
- It relies too much on technology and one day of power loss would be devastating
Advantages of Vertical Farming
Having greater output from a small cultivation area is not the only advantage of vertical farming. Following are some of the major benefits of vertical farming:
- Preparation for Future: By 2050, around 68% of the world population is expected to live in urban areas, and the growing population will lead to an increased demand for food.4 The efficient use of vertical farming may perhaps play a significant role in preparing for such a challenge.
- Increased And Year-Round Crop Production: Vertical farming allows us to produce more crops from the same square footage of growing area. In fact, 1 acre of an indoor area offers equivalent production to at least 4-6 acres of outdoor capacity.5 According to an independent estimate, a 30-story building with a basal area of 5 acres can potentially produce an equivalent of 2,400 acres of conventional horizontal farming.6 Additionally, year-round crop production is possible in a controlled indoor environment which is completely controlled by vertical farming technologies.
- Less Use Of Water In Cultivation: Vertical farming allows us to produce crops with 70% to 95% less water than required for normal cultivation.7
- Not Affected By Unfavorable Weather Conditions: Crops in a field can be adversely affected by natural calamities such as torrential rains, cyclones, flooding or severe droughts—events which are becoming increasingly common as a result of global warming. Indoor vertical farms are less likely to feel the brunt of the unfavorable weather, providing greater certainty of harvest output throughout the year.
- Increased Production of Organic Crops: As crops are produced in a well-controlled indoor environment without the use of chemical pesticides, vertical farming allows us to grow pesticide-free and organic crops.
- Human and Environmentally Friendly: Indoor vertical farming can significantly lessen the occupational hazards associated with traditional farming. Farmers are not exposed to hazards related to heavy farming equipment, diseases like malaria, poisonous chemicals and so on. As it does not disturb animals and trees inland areas, it is good for biodiversity as well.
Limitations of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming has both pros and cons. Sometimes the pros of vertical farming are highlighted and not the cons. Following are the major limitations of vertical farming:
- No Established Economics: The financial feasibility of this new farming method remains uncertain. The financial situation is changing, however, as the industry matures and technologies improve. For example, New Jersey-based indoor-farming startup Bowery announced in December 2018 that it had raised $90 million in fresh funding. In 2017, Plenty, a West Coast vertical grower, announced a $200 million investment from Softbank.
- Difficulties with Pollination: Vertical farming takes place in a controlled environment without the presence of insects. As such, the pollination process needs to be done manually, which will be labor intensive and costly.
- Labor Costs: As high as energy costs are in vertical farming, labor costs can be even higher due to their concentration in urban centers where wages are higher, as well as the need for more skilled labor. Automation in vertical farms, however, may lead to the need for fewer workers. Manual pollination may become one of the more labor-intensive functions in vertical farms.
- Too Much Dependency on Technology: The development of better technologies can always increase efficiency and lessen costs. But the entire vertical farming is extremely dependent on various technologies for lighting, maintaining temperature, and humidity. Losing power for just a single day can prove very costly for a vertical farm. Many believe the technologies in use today are not ready for mass adoption.
Vertical farming technologies are still relatively new. Companies are yet to successfully produce crops at scale and make it economically feasible to meet the growing food demand. The performance of farms like AeroFarms will determine how important a role vertical farming will play in the future to face the challenge of growing food demand.
It is worth noting, however, that technologies developed for vertical farms are also being adopted by other segments of the indoor farming sector, such as greenhouses, which can utilize natural sunlight, albeit requiring much more real estate and longer routes to market.
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