Cultivating the Future of Agriculture: It’s More Than Just Aquaponics

Urban Farm in Chicago

When most of us picture a farm, we think of a quaint red barn on a hill surrounded by fields and white fences. How is this conception of agriculture changing to fit new demands and environments? What will the future of agriculture look like? As our population expands and the world as a whole becomes more urbanized, the way we grow food to feed people is going to have to adapt to meet these changing demands. Combine urbanization with the rising local food demand, and these populous cities are going to be demanding food that was grown in or close to the city instead of from remote farms where the food travels hundreds to thousands of miles to get to the city.

Aquaponics is one tool in the tool belt that helps to address these new consumer demands. It allows us to grow food anywhere we have access to water and a power supply. But aquaponics is not the only answer. Today we are going to examine some other agriculture methods, technologies, and systematic improvements that are also aiding in the changeover to growing more food with less space more sustainably and closer to the consumers.

Closed Ecological Systems

CES’s do not rely on any exchange of matter outside the ecosystem by recycling waste products. Sound familiar? That’s because aquaponics is typically designed around a closed ecosystem! Closed Eco-Systems are highly efficient as they produce little to no waste that requires disposal. CES are already widely used on a small scale and will soon be feasible on a large scale.In addition to aquaponics, there are many ways to use closed ecosystems in field farming as well. Permaculture farms rely on this principle in creating a diverse ecological network around symbiotic or beneficial relationships in the ecosystem. Using permaculture principles farmers can transition their farms to be more sustainable, self-sufficient and productive.

Robotic Farm Swarms

Don’t be fooled by the name, these robotic farmhands are considerably less frightening than they sound. Farm swarms are groups of robots that automate farm labor by performing tasks like planting and harvesting. Their design allows them to get around constraints on conventional processes, such as the ability to plant in a grid rather than rows to make for a more efficient production process.

In addition, these robotic farmhands allow us to farm in places or ways that would be impractical or even unsafe for humans to do. A robot drone can harvest from a 20 ft vertical tower without the need for scissor lifts, ladders or dangerous equipment. They help ensure safety in vertical farms and allow small farmers to the ability create bigger and more efficient farms than they otherwise would be able to relying solely on a human workforce.

Precision Agriculture

Image: IBM

Image: IBM

Precision agriculture is a technique that uses sensors to provide real-time data and analytics about crops to farmers so they can optimize planting, harvesting and distribution schedules. This technique may sound dull, but precision agriculture helps to mitigate many of the unknowns that farms face, like ever-changing weather conditions and local diseases, making farms far more productive. Optimizing farm output while maintaining a number of resources they use is vital to developing a sustainable and Eco-friendly food system.

Vertical Farming

Anyone who has lived in cramped quarters knows that the first rule of space maximization is to utilize vertical space. But this rule extends beyond college dorms and tiny first apartments. Farmers are beginning to plant crops in vertical towers to increase production per acre on the ground and to grow food in cities. These green skyscrapers can take cities from concrete jungles to producers of bumper crops in the near future.

Vertical farming massively increases production numbers. In fact, combining vertical technology with other productions methods like aquaponics has been shown to increase production by up to 600% per square foot versus traditional field agriculture. And that study was using 5-foot vertical towers. Today vertical farms are being built, 10, 20 even 50 feet tall. With vertical farms on the rise, local food production becomes a lot more practical making the transition more and more likely to be adopted by current and new farmers alike.

So when looking at the future of agriculture and how we can go about feeding our cities, we need to acknowledge it won’t be one technology that will bring us to the promise land but the combination of many technologies and techniques. In our quest to create a repeatable model for the City that Feeds ItselfTM, we’ll be relying heavily on aquaponics to bring farming to as many urban areas as we can but we’ll also be utilizing these other strategies and methods to make sure our farms are as productive as they can be given the limited real estate for farming in urban environments.

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