With GPS technology, it is now possible to guide a tractor down a field without the operator even having to touch the steering wheel, Allen said. It makes for a more precise tillage pattern, with fertilizer and other inputs used only where they need to be.
Moisture probes placed at the root zone of plants can tell when a field needs to be irrigated and when it doesn’t.
Satellite imagery can map the biomass of individual farms, providing a prescriptive approach for the land. Perhaps there is a section of land that doesn’t grow well under wet conditions. With the prospects of a wet year on the horizon, the farm’s advisors can map a strategy for overcoming the problem in that particular area.
Jason Clay, senior vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, cited the example of Mars Candy Co. working with cocoa producers in West Africa. They had determined that 20 percent of the cocoa trees produced about 80 percent of the crop. So, they mapped the genome of those trees and, through plant breeding, hope to produce four times as much cocoa on 50 percent of the land.
Can we do it? Absolutely!
At the Alltech International Symposium held in May in Lexington, Ky., a number of visionary people gathered to discuss the same challenge of global food production.
The consensus was yes, agriculture can keep up with a growing world population.
It’s absolutely possible, says Mark Lyons, vice president of corporate affairs at Alltech. “At the same time, we would say that a lot of the technologies around today may not be the ones that will make this great leap for us,” he says.
New technologies, such as nutrigenomics, will become increasingly important.
With nutrigenomics, it will be possible to influence or control genetic expression in animals. Certain feed ingredients will be able to switch on genes in the animals, leading to improved production.
For example, “we can produce more meat more efficiently,” Lyons said.
It will revolutionize nutrition, said Karl Dawson, chief scientific officer at Alltech.
“You’re going to see more changes in nutrition in the next 10 years than you have seen in the last century,” Dawson said.
While technology appears to have unlimited potential, the outcome of the food issue will ultimately hinge on government policy.
Will governments around the world embrace the new technology? Will certain governments ease up on the restrictions they have placed on genetically modified food?