Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation today- the production, transportation, and consumption of food is very carbon intensive and produces huge amounts of fossil fuels which end up in our atmosphere, accelerating global warming.
With population numbers on the rise and living standards increasing, it has become more important than ever to focus on the best green technologies available in agriculture. But what are some of the top green technologies in agriculture today?
The top green technologies and techniques helping to make farming more environmentally sustainable are: renewable energy, zero tillage, biotechnology, organic farming, vertical farming, irrigation, integrated pest management, drones, fleet management, and digital sensors.
In this article we will go into a bit more depth on each of these technologies to see which ones have the most promise of creating a healthier planet.
What Do We Mean By Green Technology?
Green technology, sometimes known as clean technology, works to reduce the negative impacts of humans on the environment, and when implemented correctly, these will support the human population on Earth sustainably and give future generations successful agricultural methods to continue using.
Utilizing green technologies in agriculture is important because they reduce environmental damage, produce less fossil fuel as by-products, and aid in sustainable agricultural development.
Some of these technologies may already be familiar to you, but a lot of them possibly not! Keep reading and I will elaborate on each technology, outlining what it is and how it will benefit the agricultural industry to become more sustainable.
1) Renewable Energy
Renewable energy, or clean energy, is essential for sustainable agriculture.
A renewable resource is a natural resource which can replenish itself to replace what has been used- it cannot run out, so it is sustainable.
Currently, most agricultural machinery currently runs on fossil fuels, which releases greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
This environmental damage could be mitigated by using renewable energy technologies. Renewable energy and farming are a great combination because these natural resources can be harvested forever, giving farmers a long-term source of income.
There are many different types of renewable energies, so I have listed the ones most commonly used in agriculture;
Solar technologies are versatile for agricultural use. This renewable technology works by converting solar light radiation into electrical energy. The electricity generated from the sun can be used for running farm machinery, lighting and water pumping.
Solar thermal technologies are another green technology which are becoming more favoured. It works by converting solar heat radiation into heat energy and can be used for water heating, solar greenhouses, and underground soil heating.
Wind turbines are a popular choice for farmers because they don’t use up much land. They can be used to pump water for irrigation.
Biomass is derived from biological organisms such as corn, plants, and animal waste. This material is then converted into energy by being burned. The heat can be used directly for heating buildings, crop drying and dairy operations. It can also be used to produce steam and generate electricity.
The use of renewable technologies in agriculture will not only make the industry more sustainable, but will also help with food security. It is one of the biggest changes that the agricultural industry can covert to in order to create a low-carbon, energy secure future.
2) Zero Tillage
Zero tillage, or no-till farming, is a method which eliminates the need to plough the soil or the use of any heavy farm machinery.
Because the soil is not disturbed as much as with regular farming methods, the amount of greenhouse gases released from the soil is reduced and less erosion and runoff occurs.
Zero tillage also improves the rate of soil carbon sequestration (the amount of carbon the soil absorbs and stores) and utilises crop residue left on the soil surface from the previous crop.
Overall, this green method of farming helps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases entering our atmosphere while at the same time cutting costs for farmers.
This technique has shown that it has both environmental and economic benefits and is important because it can be implemented worldwide.
Zero tillage does not require lots of money to be invested into it before seeing results. Educating farmers on this practice could be a massive step towards making the agricultural industry more sustainable.
No-till farming is a green method that also takes into account the huge global food demand. This technology was first used with the aim of saving water and soil, but the added benefits of reducing greenhouse gases could be used to the planets benefit.
Biotechnology, or genetically modified organisms (GMO), is the process by which a crop’s DNA is modified in a way that does not occur naturally.
The ability to be able to develop plants with specific trails is powerful technology with a lot of benefits to humans, including helping to combat climate change.
Biotech crops are more sustainable for our environment. Biotechnology positively reduces the effects of climate change by using genetically modified stress tolerant and high yielding crops.
GMO’s can also be grown to require less pesticides and the need to be ploughed less frequently.
This links to zero tillage – biotechnology also benefits from all of the points that I spoke about in the previous section.
Biotechnology is currently seen as a reliable answer to mitigate climate change and these modified crops have already shown the reduction in greenhouses gases that they produce when compared to normal crops.
4) Organic Farming
Organic farming is the process of using environmentally friendly farming methods to improve soil and human health while at the same time protecting the environment. It uses higher quality soils which means better crop productivity, overall making it a more economically competitive option.
Organic farming has less need for fertilisers and pesticides which require a lot of fossil fuels to be produced.
Instead it uses crop rotations and manure to control pests, weeds and disease. Using organic technology mitigates the effects of global warming by sequestering carbon into the soil. It also uses less energy and promotes greater biodiversity.
That said, organic farming must be used in balance. Organic farms typically require much larger land areas than intensive farms to produce the same crops. If the whole world converted to organic farming we would probably have to stat chopping woodlands down to accommodate it.
The land sharing vs land sparing debate is an interesting one, do we farm intensively on smaller areas leaving more natural areas for nature? Or do we farm organically over a larger area? The answer is probably a bit of both!
5) Vertical farming
Vertical farming is the process of growing crops in vertically stacked layers rather than the traditional horizontal farming.
This means that farmers can grow significantly more food on the same amount of land. It is controlled- environmental agriculture and techniques such as aquaponics and hydroponics are often used.
Vertical farming can be a sustainable urban method of farming, providing environmental, economic and social benefits. Farmers will see an increased yield and reduced water and fertiliser waste. This new technology has been found to cut water consumption by as much as 95%!
Because the crops are in a controlled climate, there is also less need for pesticides as pests and diseases are not in the soil.
Another massive benefit is that vertical farms can be located anywhere- they can be built in urban and highly populated areas to meet local food demands.
The local production and harvesting of crops greatly reduces the amounts of ‘food miles’, which positively impacts travel costs and carbon footprint. This green technology is favoured in urban areas and countries with limited free land.
As with many of these technologies this method must be used in balance and in the correct situations. Although the benefits are there to see the energy consumption for vertical farms is much higher than traditional farms (which use free energy from the sun to grow crops). One article estimates it would take around 14 times the energy to produce lettuce in a vertical farm than a traditional farm.
6) Irrigation Monitoring
Irrigation is the supply of water to crops and of course an essential part of the agricultural process and not something you can withhold on- without enough water the crop will not produce a healthy yield.
However, with the correct technology you can make sure you are using the water supply as sensibly and efficiently as possible.
The less water a farmer uses, the more sustainable the practice becomes. The Earth’s water supply is finite, which means we have a limited amount and saving water is important to keep the environment healthy.
Wireless and remote monitoring systems are now available and they help farmers to gain better control of their operations, making smarter decisions about their water usage and distribution. This can be particularly helpful in very large farms with a lot of land to look after.
7) Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a modern, sustainable approach that encourages the use of natural pest control mechanisms with the aim to grow healthy crops with the least possible disruption to ecosystems and risks to the environment.
Crop health is essential for good productivity in agriculture which means that IPM is a vital green technology for the future.
It reduces the use of synthetic pesticides and the toxic footprint of the farmland. It is a green technology that is easily accessible to lots of farmers and one which will make their land healthier and more productive.
Everyone has seen the increased interest and obsession with drones. They seem to be used by everyone for everything now, but maybe that is for a good reason!
They have become incredibly useful in the agricultural industry as a green technology to improve sustainability and help the fight against climate change.
Drones improve what is known as precision farming – it erases the need for guesswork and assists farmers to become more efficient, and therefore more sustainable, with the work that they conduct.
This new and powerful technology can be used in many aspects of the farming industry. With their huge array of sensors and cameras, drones are perfect for capturing aerial imagery and examining crops.
They can also be used for livestock management, crop spraying and irrigation mapping. Drones are now becoming a mainstream smart farming tool and it is likely that their prices will continue to drop as their popularity increases further.
9) Farming Robots
Robots that work on a farm don’t just have to be the flying variety they can also opperate on the ground.
Many companies are popping up that are designing robots that will not only help farming become more efficient, but also reduce environmental impacts.
The small robot company is a great example of how robotics and AI can be used to benefit the environment.
Their robots can be deployed on farms for a variety of reasons such as applying pesticides in a targeted way, rather than spraying wildly from a tractor.
The fact they don’t need to carry a human passenger also means they are much lighter than other farm machinery and so they don’t compact the soil as much. Soil compaction is a major problem in farming causing soil runoff, which leads to polluted rivers and flooding.
10) Fleet Management Technology
When it comes to making agriculture more sustainable, looking at the vehicles is an important aspect because they contribute greatly to the amount of fossil fuels that are produced by the industry.
Fleet management is a green technology that has evolved over recent years by using the science of advanced GPS systems.
These advance systems can give detailed information including fuel usage, engine speed, and upcoming maintenance.
Ultimately, this technology can be used to make sure that the equipment is being used as efficiently as possible. Farmers will save money and at the same time cut down their carbon footprint. This sort of technology is not currently available for everyone to use due to the price, but it is becoming more commonplace and the information is being taught to new farmers all the time.
11) Digital Sensors
The advanced technology that is available today can monitor every tiny aspect of farming and is helping to make the industry more sustainable with reduced environmental impacts.
Sensors can monitor micro-climate data, pH levels in the soil and even the movement of animals.
This is new technology and is currently in the infancy of what it could potentially help us to achieve long term. Precise data helps farmers to make informed decisions, making sure their production remains as sustainable as possible.
Digital sensors allow farmers to maximise yields, conserve water and fertilisers, reduce waste and increase productivity. This green technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible, so soon it will become a viable option for many more countries.
In 2021, these 10 green technologies are leading the way in changing how the agricultural industry works.
The reality is it won’t be one single technology that saves the planet from environmental destruction, it will be a series of new green technologies sometimes mixed in with a return to some more ‘traditional’ techniques such as organic farming.
New tech is being developed all the time and it means that research is being done and people are working hard to try and make our planet a more sustainable place. Agriculture will always be essential for our human population so it is in our best interests to find the most successful way to keep it green and sustainable.