Anti-science attitude threatens agriculture, humanity – WATTAgNet.com

Reported by Austin Alonzo (WATT Global Media) aalonzo@wattglobal.com

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Prairie grain silos in late summer

First world consumers need to understand the role genetically modified organisms can, and will, play in feeding billions of people far into the future. Otherwise, a key technology will be lost.| Bigstock.com

Whether or not humanity will be able to feed itself in the future depends on our ability to use powerful genetic engineering technology.

 

August 11, 2017

According to today’s pop science gleaned from social media, news, blogs and shock-umentaries, it’s all about what’s not in your food. Gluten-free, steroid-free, hormone-free, cage-free, cruelty-free, the list goes on and on.

Consumers want to know more about what’s in their food and where it’s coming from. When they look for answers, there’s no guarantee they’ll find factual information from a credible source. Endless free publishing possibilities on the Internet give everyone, for better or worse, a platform.

This mix of marketing innuendo, appeals to emotion and junk science helped spawn the fear of genetically modified organisms. Rob Saik, the founder of the Agri-Trend Group who spoke about the future of agriculture at March’s Midwest Poultry Federation Convention, said recent research showed 82 percent of consumers think food containing GMOs should be labeled. Moreover, the third largest health concern for consumers – behind Salmonella and E. coli – is GMOs in food.

It’s understandable why, to an under-informed audience, GMO sounds scary. A consumer could fear humanity created Frankenstein’s monster by altering nature to serve our ends and that there’s some unintended consequence of eating “frankenfood.” The abundance of products touting their GMO-free status and the staying power of those preaching against GMOs prove these concerns are prevalent. Saik said this is lumped in with science’s declining status in education and public opinion’s growing divergence from scientific thought.

But, when GMO-free becomes the rule of the day, humanity is stripped of a critical technology. Genetic engineering yielded crops using less water, pesticide and fertilizer to produce more food with greater nutritional value. In the future, GMOs will help feed more people using less resources, but if society rejects the technology millions will go hungry. He pointed to golden rice: The grain is genetically modified to contain beta-carotene and vitamin A and it could help nourish millions in the developing world. But it’s spent the better part of the last two decades unused thanks to campaigns by activist groups.

GMOs, and genetic engineering on a broader scale, will help feed more people with less resources, but only if these tools are allowed to be used. If humanity wants to make use of the technology, consumers will have to understand the science and come to see GMO as a positive rather than negative. Saik is producing a documentary project – KNOW GMO – fighting back against misinformation and trumpeting the virtues of genetic engineering. He’s got enough material for a feature length movie, but not the funding. For now, the documentary is being distributed as a web series via the project’s website and social media.

The same appeals to emotion, in many cases pushed by the same activists, are being used against animal agriculture on all fronts. In poultry, cage-free, slow-growing broilers and antibiotic-free are bucking science ostensibly to serve market demands.

Just as with GMOs, farmers need to take a larger role in the conversation and start educating the public on what they are doing and how that benefits the earth on a larger scale. Farmers are more credible with consumers than any other group, Saik said, and the majority of people can be swayed with education. If silent, the vocal minority will continue to dictate the agenda at the expense of the farmer and likely hungry mouths all over the world.

10 forces shaping the future of agriculture – WATTAgNet.com

Reported By: Austin Alonzo (WATT Global Media) aalonzo@wattglobal.com

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The future of agriculture is bright, thanks to emerging technology and innovative thinking. But, there will be challenges in achieving that vision.

The big question in agriculture is whether or not the world’s ever increasing population will be able to feed itself with ever dwindling resources. One forward thinker says the answer is yes, given that the world’s farmers can take advantage of the tools at their disposal.

Rob Saik, the founder of the Agri-Trend Group, gave the keynote presentation at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention on March 16. His presentation, adapted from his book, “The Agriculture Manifesto: Ten Key Drivers that Will Shape Agriculture in the Next Decade,” highlighted the forces that will drive the future of agriculture.

1. Non-science movement

The most dangerous is the growing strength of the non-science movement. Saik said the status of science in public education, along with public trust in science and scientists, is eroding. This is problematic in the food sector because popular belief in non-scientific ideas, or rejection of science, is shaping consumer preferences.

In the poultry industry, non-science is reflected in the still prevalent beliefs that farmers use hormones, steroids or antibiotics to plump up chickens. These beliefs translated into the antibiotic-free and slow-growing movements that are shaping the future of the broiler industry.

The most concerning part of this trend, he argued, is the non-GMO movement. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are the third largest health concern for US food consumers behind Salmonella and E. coli. Food paranoia, fueled by both marketers and activists, is conditioning first world consumers to believe that GMOs are dangerous. This is frightening because without GMO crops – and on a broader scale genetic engineering – that produce more food using less resources, humanity will face serious challenges going forward.

2. Bio-Synthesis advances

On the other side of the non-science coin lies the great potential represented by bioengineering. Modern science unleashed the potential to both understand the genetic code of plants and animals and use that knowledge to shape more productive plants and animals in the future. If consumer sentiment doesn’t prevent its deployment, genetic engineering will be a key positive force in the future.

3. Market segmentation

Segmentation, as Saik described it, is the concept that farmers can market directly to specific segments of the market. Just as Amazon, and other online retailers, cut the middleman out of commerce by connecting the supplier directly to the consumer, agriculture can potentially containerize certain products and send them directly to interested consumers in bulk. Beyond the convenience factor, market segmentation can potentially increase sustainability of farming operations and transparency in the food supply chain.

4. Sensor technology

Another technological advancement playing a role in agriculture’s future is the rapid development of sensor technology and the spreading reach of the internet. In agriculture, the so-called internet of things – the increasing connectivity of everyday objects to the internet – promises to unleash a torrent of data farmers can use to better understand the performance of their crops and better utilize their resources.

In the future, farmers will be able to access sensors attached directly to plants and animals, drones flying overhead and satellites orbiting the earth to analyze the performance of their crops and modify their activities accordingly. This will contribute to a more productive industry using less of the earth’s finite resources.

5. 3-D printing

Saik said the technology brings multiple applications to the farm. A 3-D printer on a farm means never needing to wait on a replacement part to be shipped to the site. Instead, a replacement part can be printed then and there and popped into place, reducing downtime and extending the life of existing equipment.

The technology can also be used to “print” food. There are already printers out there using raw materials to create edible products. He pointed to a hospital in Holland using 3-D printers to make food specially crafted to each patient’s unique nutritional needs. One day, a more sophisticated version of the technology could even use plants to print meat substitutes.

6. Robotics

Already a force in egg farming and a more potent force in poultry processing, robots and other autonomous technologies will continue to grow in importance on farms. Saik said automation can affect every sector of agriculture. Robots developed for dirty, dangerous or dull work will become more common on farms and a more significant part of the farm labor pool.

Artificial intelligence’s rapid development will contribute to the rise of the farming robot. Already, autonomous and connected vehicle technology is available for tractor, and other farm equipment, automation and even remote control via smartphone app.

7. Water retention

According to Saik, water retention is the most important metric of sustainability ahead of soil health and greenhouse gas balance. Climate change and increasing population continue to exert pressure on the world’s fresh water supply. Sensor technology and increased utilization of data will help farmers be more deliberate with watering. Genetic engineering will develop more water efficient crops.

8. Precision agriculture

Aided by sensors and data analytics, precision agriculture will allow farmers to feed animals precisely what they need and apply exact amounts of water, fertilizer and attention to their crops. If executed properly, precision agriculture will drive up feed conversion and resource efficiency.

9. Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence will apply to robotics, but will also aid in data analysis and data visualization. Saik identified augmented reality as a great area of opportunity for agriculture. When applied to viewers – like Google’s Glass or Microsoft’s HoloLens – augmented or mixed reality will allow farmers to visualize key metrics like weather, soil moisture and crop health in augmented reality, and apply that knowledge immediately.

10. Data analysis

Data lies at the crux of all the aforementioned technologies. The collection of soil data through sensors, the observation of crops from overhead or orbit and revelations from genetic code can only be truly understood and utilized through data analytics. Computers will continue to improve and artificial intelligence-aided algorithms will make great strides in data analytics. Advanced analysis will enable more efficient farming, giving humanity the opportunity to do more with less.

The technology is out there, Saik said, and the cost continues to drop. The expense is not much higher than conventional farming, and allows incredible potential dividends.