by Pei-Wen Wang
The food crisis has been an ongoing challenge that remains to be solved. Among a wide array of solutions, genetically modified crops, precision agriculture, and plant factories are the most promising.
Plant factory refers to the cultivating environments where plants grow under controlled conditions, such as light, environment, humidity, CO2 concentrations, nutrients, water supply, etc. The monitor of the environment and the cultivation outcome, coupled with strict control of the settings and cultivation prediction, enables year-round and planned production of plants such as vegetables. Pros are that the plant growth is not subject to the weather, as the crops can be produced regularly, with certain quality and quantity.
Cons are that it comes with high production cost, and the water and electricity costs required for production are also quite high. Crops with high production costs are not always economically feasible, which is why there need to be high value cash crops as an investment to cover the cost.
Genetically modified crops
Genetically modified food features molecular biology today to transfer the genes of certain organisms to other species, which modifies the hereditary substance in such species. From that, genetically modified organisms are produced to change such species based on people’s preference, such as the intended shape, nutritional quality, and consumer needs. The end products are edible themselves and can be used as raw material for further processing.
In 2012, genetically modified crops cover about 170 million hectares of planting areas. Based on the area allocation, these crops account for 81% of the world’s soybeans, 35% of corn, 30% of rapeseed plant, and 81% of cotton.
Precision agriculture, also known as site-specific management, refers to the use of modern information technology for farming with precision. Using global positioning system (GPS), geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing, decision support system (DSS), and variable rate sprinkler, precision agriculture can be broken down into three parts: field data collection, data processing and decision-making with prescriptions, and sprinkler irrigation based on such decisions. Precision agriculture brings more precise standards, when it comes to the use of seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or when conducting irrigation, in terms of how much, where, and when.
The use of precision agriculture is expected to improve production efficiency, and welcomes increased yields despite the same input. At present, production through precision agriculture and relevant equipment has begun to take shape in developed countries.
It is hoped that the food crisis can be solved step by step through plant factories, genetically modified crops, and precision agriculture.