What will food of the future look like?
Will better food make better people?
Can better food create better people? Will a better food supply lead to healthier, stronger, better-thinking people? This is exactly the premise that is driving many of the advances in farming today.
To understand agribusiness in the future, consider a model that conveniently exists right now – in the human-food interface. Metabolism is a term used to describe the various chemical reactions that take place in every cell of the body. Intermediary metabolism is a vast web of interconnected reactions by the constituent parts of the cell.
Every metabolism is different. Gaining an ability to read and monitor a person's metabolic reaction to the food eaten will cause the agriculture industry to evolve with great precision around the tiny niche demands of consumers.
The future of foods is smart foods. The food industry will resemble the body's metabolism. Science will create real-time reactive sensors in our bodies that can read everything from the fluctuation of brainwaves, to micro changes in heartbeats, to gastro-digestive processes, to variations of skin perspiration rates. This constant monitoring of hundreds if not thousands of bodily nuances will bring about healthier food choices and, more importantly, choices tailored specifically to an individual's needs. The sensors will need to interface with an equally nuanced supply chain to meet the needs of this next generation, hyper-individualized consumer.
In the home of 2030, a personal monitoring system will generate a grocery list based on the anticipated needs and stated desires of that individual. Food orders will then be placed either automatically or with as much control as the person desires. The order will go to the local food supplier, who will be in constant communication with regional suppliers, and they will be in constant communication with the food producers.
The entire supply chain architecture will be wired to the needs of the end user.
Much like the seemingly endless iterations of coffee at Starbucks, food from restaurants and fast food outlets will come in over a million variations. Customers will be able to order a 13.2 percent fat cheeseburger with 2.7 grams of potassium and 3.6 grams of calcium that has a hint of almond and banana flavoring on a sesame seed bun with exactly 47 sesame seeds on it.
This may seem a ridiculous level of specificity. But in an automated society, the process will become seamless and invisible to the end user. It will be commonplace for a person to simply order their particular cheeseburger. Medium for me, please – with only one dill pickle, no lettuce and a tomato.
Farmers will become expert at producing "jacked-in" food stocks with countless variations, managed through computerized processes designed to manipulate the end results. Controls will be exercised along a broad spectrum from environmental conditions such as light, water, and oxygen levels in the air to genetic manipulation according to approved safety guidelines. The regulatory system for insuring ultra-safe food supplies will be constantly monitored through automated data feeds at each step of the supply chain.
By 2030, a farm or ranch will adopt technologies that leave today's operations far behind. Ultra high tech farms of the future will generate exotic half-plant, half-animal vegetation as well as crystalline plants, air plants, and generic non-species plants designed for post-harvest flavor and nutrient infusions.
Leveraging Plant Intelligence
Aside from growing food, new opportunities will emerge for "growing" products. Our ability to manipulate produce will also enable us to manipulate plants in other ways. For instance, jacking into a tree, we will someday be able to "train" a tree to have its branches grow into the shape of end tables, coffee tables, chairs, or rocking chairs. Once these unusual branches are fully grown, farmers can walk up to the tree and harvest the rocking chairs by cutting them down, similar to harvesting apples or cherries.
Eventually we will be able to "grow" our own clothing, clothing that is intelligent, self-repairing, able to change colors to match our mood, and protective in extreme elements.
The idea of growing rocks sounds far-fetched at first, but apparently the idea is solid. There are many instances of rocks and rock-like material being grown in nature. Similar to growing coral in the oceans or crystals in a laboratory, growing rocks may become an expansive new area of farming.
The precision we use to monitor consumer demand will translate into ultra-precise farming operations in highly controlled environments. Today's surface farming is both imprecise and subject to extreme external influences, making it less than ideal to supply the consumer marketplace of the future. Since traditional greenhouses are expensive to build and inefficient to operate, farming in the future will go vertical.
Several experimental vertical farming projects like Dr. Dickson Despommier's at Columbia University are in various conceptual and experimental stages of implementation. Most designs are far to expensive to compete practically with existing ag operations.
The concept of vertical farming that I envision, has been framed around the idea of creating both below-surface and above-surface silos serving as vertical greenhouses for the production of food. These cylindrical shaped silos with honeycomb lined walls filled with rich top soil have the ability to convert a small surface area on land into a much larger surface area on the walls of the silos.
The entire production area in these silos will be managed with a robotic arm that travels up and down a central shaft performing all necessary tasks of planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, and post harvest cleanup.
The central vertical shaft will double as both an optical shaft through which sunlight will be channeled to provide natural illumination for optimal plant growth as well as the primary rail for the robotic arm. Sunshine will be collected via a solar concentrator from the above-ground portion of the silo.
With water coming from an ongoing evaporation system that extracts moisture from the air, and external wind generators for power, these self-contained farming silos can be constructed in desolate climates, deserts, on rocky ground, and all of the most unforgiving places on the planet. This coupled with the fact that it creates a year around farming operation on greatly expanded surface area has the ability to increase the earth's ability to produce food a thousand fold.
Expanding both the dimension and precision of farming operations will create unprecedented new levels of opportunity in agriculture, making future agribusiness professionals some of the most highly skilled people on earth.