Back in the good old days, farming was easy. Throw some seeds in the ground, keep it watered, pray to your preferred deity to spare your crops from pestilence and wait for harvest season. But with the global population closing in on 7 billion mouths to feed, humanity is going to have to figure out how to grow more food using less land and fewer resources, and soon. So while some researchers and equipment manufacturers are devising intelligent agricultural implements that will toil in tomorrow's fields on our behalf, others are aiming to bring futuristic farms to urban city centers. "Over three billion dollars were lost in California alone [in 2017], because there's not enough people to actually do the operations in seeding or harvesting," Brandon Alexander, co-founder of Iron Ox Robotic Farms, told Engadget.
When we think about automation, we often imagine robots just doing the work of humans. Our mental image is of an android in overalls, clocking in with a lunchbox full of oil and bolts, and grabbing a hammer. But that's not what happens. The reality is much messier, and the process of automation is one of compromise and incremental progress. Agritech startup Iron Ox is the perfect example of this.
An ambitious, almost fantastical, manifestation of agricultural technology is expected to come to fruition this fall. From the remains of an abandoned steel mill in Newark, New Jersey, the creators of AeroFarms are building what they say will be the largest vertical farm, producing two million pounds of leafy greens a year. Whether it even qualifies as a "farm" is a matter of taste. The greens will be manufactured using a technology called aeroponics, a technique in which crops are grown in vertical stacks of plant beds, without soil, sunlight or water. "I ate some of the arugula here," said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie after a recent visit to a smaller AeroFarms facility in the neighborhood.
You've probably heard of farm-to-table, or even farm-to-fork, agricultural movements that emphasize the connection between producers and consumers. Spread, a giant factory farm that grows lettuce in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, is just one of more than 200 "plant factories" in Japan capable of harvesting 20,000 heads of lettuce every day. Their lettuce, which includes frilly and pleated varieties, is grown in a totally sterile environment: There's no soil or sunlight, no wind nor rain. The rich, dark-brown soil in which produce has traditionally been grown is utterly alien inside the factory. Instead, the lettuce is grown hydroponically, in a nutrient-rich gelatinous substance.
Nine new breeds of carrot including a'super orange' variety have been developed by Japanese scientists. One breed, called'Amelie', has been bred to have extra carotene - the pigment that makes carrots appear bright orange. And elsewhere in Japan, scientists are developing a lettuce farm exclusively run by robots. Nine new breeds of carrot including a'super orange' variety have been developed by Japanese scientists, including'Christine' (above), which grows in the shape of a perfect cylinder and the'Reimei' (below), which thrives in the cold One breed, called'Amelie', has been bred to have extra carotene, the pigment that makes carrots appear bright orange. The new vegetable varieties were developed using selective breeding.