The agricultural sector is still seen by many as a fairly old fashioned industry that supports a more traditional way of life. What a lot of people don’t realise is that agriculture is actually on the forefront of technological innovation, constantly striving to push the boundaries of what is possible. And given our rapidly changing world, for many farms it’s a case of keep up or go bust.
Supply chains are in a constant state of flux while governments around the world look towards legislating for more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. This means that farmers are constantly looking to fill new markets and be on the cutting edge of technology advancements to stay competitive.
So, what are some of the fastest growing trends in agriculture in 2022? Let’s take a look!
Geographic information systems (GIS) refers to a high-tech network of hardware infrastructure (satellites, drones, manned aircraft), software and data. It uses satellite and drone imagery to capture multiple bands of the visible light spectrum which can be analysed to calculate factors such as plant disease, soil nutrient deficiencies, insect infestations and crop moisture. This information is then mapped out so farmers can use it to monitor their crops and soils to identify where issues need addressing.
These maps inform farmers exactly where and when fertilisers or herbicides may be required. By joining farm machinery, control systems and application equipment, it helps farmers apply precise amounts of growing inputs, thus reducing wastage and maximising revenues.
This real-time actionable data input is an invaluable tool for maximising crop yields and minimising input costs. By extension, it also helps to reduce the environmental impacts of farming.
2. Seaweed farming
Carbon emissions dominate the discussion when it comes to sustainability, and one of the main sources of this in farming is methane output from cows. However, researchers have found that adding Asparagopsis Taxiformis—a species of seaweed that grows like weeds along much of the coast of NSW—into cattle feed, it slashes their methane production by more than 80 per cent.
At the moment, there is only one commercial seaweed farm in Australia, but there are more in development. And with Australia’s vast coastline, we are in a good position to become global leaders in a multi billion-dollar industry that will make a serious dent in global carbon emissions.
3. Commercialising native flora
Australian native plants have been part of indigenous diets and medicine for thousands of years. But now these native plants are being picked up by local and sustainable food movements. Wattleseed and Kakadu plums are particularly popular domestically, while finger limes and lemon myrtle have become lucrative exports.
A 2019 feasibility study by the University of Sydney found that panicum, also known as native millet, can be turned into a gluten-free flour that is more nutritious and easier to produce than wheat. And like all native plants, panicum helps preserve native fauna and can even survive bushfires.
4. Regenerative agriculture
Due to concerns about climate change and weather volatility, more consumers are pushing organisations and individuals to adopt regenerative agricultural practices. This broad term refers to practices that increase soil carbon sequestration, such as reduced tillage and the use of cover crops. While there is some debate as to exactly how effective this is when it comes to emissions mitigation, scientists agree that these practices increase soil health and fertility.
5. Vertical indoor farming
Unlike the old fashioned way of planting crops horizontally in soil, vertical crops can be grown in gutters organised in tower formations inside climate-controlled greenhouses. This technique can then be boosted by hydroponic technology. A farm in NSW has had excellent results by planting truss tomato seeds in balsa rock sealed in insulation pads. These are set on gutters that hang from the ceilings of futuristic glass houses imported from the Netherlands. The result is a whopping 70kg of tomatoes per square metre—around six times more than the best farmers in Australia can grow on soil.
6. Alternative proteins
Concerns over health, the environment and animal welfare are contributing to growing demands for alternative protein sources.
The CSIRO estimates the size of Australia’s domestic and export market for alternative proteins will have a combined value of $7.6 billion by 2030. This means more opportunities for farmers to grow high protein crops like lupins, faba beans, lentils and chickpeas, as well as new protein sources like algae and insects.
According to the Insect Protein Association of Australia, there are now more than 50 insect farmers across the country, more than double the number from a couple of years ago. Most of them produce insect-based animal feed, although some are looking towards making it fit for human consumption.
None of this is to say there isn’t room for conventional farming techniques. There is a reason why they have stood the test of time over the last few centuries, and why conventional equipment such as the Kubota tractor is still necessary. But a Kubota dealer is just one link in an ever growing chain that keeps farmers doing their bit to keep us fed while addressing climate change.