Technology To The Rescue

Every day there is a news item that reinforces the importance of food security in our lives. Just a few days prior to writing this article there was the announcement that salmonella bacteria had once again been found in the nation’s food supply. The source of the contamination was not known, but the outbreak had affected at least 42 states and had already sickened more than 350 people. In fact, some of the cases were only a few counties from my home.

Whether due to the complexity of the food supply chain, better reporting of incidents, or better forensics on the part of the emergency medical system, food security issues on a national scale appear to be more common in recent years.

It seems a bit ironic that we now have precision agriculture tools that can pinpoint to the meter a chemical application in the field, but it typically takes weeks to identify a source of contamination. The question should be asked: “How could precision agriculture support food security?” Before answering this, it might be helpful to define food security, particularly from the perspective of produce moving through the food supply chain.

Safe And Sustainable, Field To Fork

Drawing from the literature, I would define food security as the “sustained production and distribution of safe and nutritious food in quantities and quality in order for people to have healthy lives.”

This food security definition can be interpreted in a number of different ways. I will try to interpret it from the perspective of precision agriculture. I will first address the “sustainable production and distribution” phrase in the definition. Variability in production and inequities in distribution threaten reliable, sustainable food supplies. While distribution is tied to infrastructure, economy, trade agreements, and national policy, variable production is the result of soil resources, weather patterns, and management practices.

Historically, precision agriculture has been almost exclusively focused on the production space. The combination of geospatial monitoring, improved equipment capabilities, and the integration and presentation of data provided by information technology tools has resulted in better decision making in the field. With the greater adoption of today’s precision agriculture products, food security will only benefit from a more consistent performance at the point of production.

“Safe and nutritious food,” the second phrase in the food security definition, is just now beginning to be impacted by precision agriculture. Safe food can only be guaranteed when there is accountability. That is, transparent records as to the management practices, including applied materials, employed in field production must be available to all stakeholders in the food supply chain.

The passing of these records from field to consumer provides a traceability of the management outcomes. As-applied maps of material applications, bar-coded or radio frequency identification (RFID)-tagged produce, and online entries into record-keeping programs are good examples of precision agriculture products that support food chain traceability, with safe food as the end result. With accountability from the point of production, any downstream problems can be quickly be traced back to an upstream source. Nutritious food can also be served by traceability products. In analogous logic for preventing problems, the same precision agriculture tools and programs can confirm the claims of food ingredients. Supply chain testing and online record keeping can report whether a shipment of produce contains the declared amount of fiber, protein, sugar and other organic compounds, or whether it came from genetically modified organism (GMO) seed.

Quantity And Quality

The third phrase in our food security definition has to do with “quantities and quality.” While the quantity and quality of food has always been measured in the supply chain for monetary evaluation, it is rarely linked backed to production decision making. The inability to make backward links is especially true of quality.

There are several reasons for this shortcoming. First, produce from different farms is commonly mixed together as it moves through the supply chain to meet quantity demands. This mixing removes source identities. Second, produce from large-acreage operations has an inherent range of quality even if from a single farm. Third, handling and storage practices can change and in some cases degrade the quality of produce before it reaches its final destination. Fourth, new and changing markets can redirect food quantities and challenge a quality rating.

A good example of a new market is corn as a source for biofuel. This shift in corn quantities to the new biofuel market reduces their availability to traditional markets. Precision agriculture tools and programs have yet to make an impact in the downstream portion of the food supply chain. But if recent trends are an indicator, it is not hard to imagine that the evolution in today’s tools and programs will play a future role in linking production practices to the end-of-chain food quantities and quality. This evolution of precision agriculture tools and programs is captured in “technology tune-up” theme of this issue. In the end, it will be the continual improvement and integration of precision agriculture technology into the food supply chain that will help contribute to food security in this country and throughout the world.

Leave a Reply

Specialty Crops Stories
DronesWhen High Value Crops Meet Inaccessible Areas: How Drones and Multispectral Imagery are Giving Farmers an Edge
April 12, 2018
Avocados are one of the few crops in Chile that can economically be commercially cultivated on hills. On one hand Read More
Almond-trees-blooming
Sensors/IoTWhy Virtual Sensors Could Save California’s At-Risk Almond Yields
April 12, 2018
To say that the Golden State can lay claim to the title of king of almonds might be an understatement. Read More
Lettuce-field
Specialty CropsTaylor Farms, Plug and Play Partner to Further Innovation in Food Industry
April 11, 2018
Taylor Farms, a leading producer of value-added healthy fresh foods, and Plug and Play, the world’s largest global innovation platform Read More
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Robotics/Labor SaversSpecialty Crops: Get in Gear Now for Agriculture’s Robotic Revolution
April 11, 2018
While the immigration debate rages on in Washington, DC, with little chance for reform in sight, the uncertain labor picture Read More
Trending Articles
Farm-Storm-Clouds-Photo-Eden-Hills
Data ManagementThe Precipitation Problem in Agriculture
April 17, 2018
Precipitation is arguably the most important agricultural weather parameter, yet it is the most difficult variable to precisely measure. For Read More
SDSU-drone
Business ManagementInside the Key Strategies For Selling Precision Ag Services
April 13, 2018
In its earliest manifestation, the motive for developing precision agriculture service was entirely pure. Agronomists knew that crops were responding Read More
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Robotics/Labor SaversSpecialty Crops: Get in Gear Now for Agriculture’s Robotic Revolution
April 11, 2018
While the immigration debate rages on in Washington, DC, with little chance for reform in sight, the uncertain labor picture Read More
InSiteDCM
Business ManagementDelivering on Ag Data Value
April 3, 2018
Bruce Baier is another deeply experienced precision agriculture manager who survived the early years of ag technology while riding the Read More
University-of-Georgia-photo-credit-USDA
Business Management25 Best Colleges for Precision Agriculture
March 21, 2018
Choosing the right college is a process. It’s one that I’m just now embarking on with my teenage daughter. Long Read More
Farmer-tablet
Decision Support SoftwareOpinion: The Missing Link in Precision Agriculture
March 15, 2018
The agtech boom over the last two years is indeed astonishing. Farmers are becoming more open to new, emerging technologies Read More
Latest News
Finalists-teams-Syngenta-Crop-Challenge-in-Analytics
Data ManagementData-Driven Strategies and Machine Learning Shaping the…
April 26, 2018
Last week I attended the 2018 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research in Baltimore, MD. Among the activities Read More
Sentera-FieldAgent
Industry NewsSentera, The Climate Corp. Partner to Enhance Agronomic…
April 24, 2018
Climate FieldView customers can now enjoy seamless integration of Sentera FieldAgent on-field sensor and analytics products with FieldView, as well Read More
Field Sprayer
Sensors/IoTHere’s What’s Working with the Internet of Things ̷…
April 24, 2018
With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now seeing farmers use more wireless technologies to increase Read More
Case-Header-2
Industry NewsAustralian Company Offers On Combine Analysis Technolog…
April 24, 2018
Next Instruments is an Australian manufacturer of instrumentation for the grains and food industries. Over the last 5 years Next Read More
corn field
Industry NewsNutrient Ag Solutions Launching New Digital Farming Pla…
April 24, 2018
Nutrien’s retail division – soon to be rebranded as Nutrien Ag Solutions – has announced the launch of a new Read More
Industry NewsClimate Corp Announces 5 New FieldView Integrations
April 23, 2018
The Climate Corporation announced the addition of five industry-leading partners to The Climate Corporation’s Climate FieldView digital agriculture platform. The Read More
Laura_Crook_WinterWheat_Blackgrass_PrecisionAg
Industry NewsKansas Software Outfit Ag Developer Announces agX Integ…
April 23, 2018
Ag Developer, a Kansas based software development company, is simplifying grower/advisor communications by connecting to the agX Platform, according to Read More
field_in_back_1000_wd-featured-image
Industry NewsAyrstone Introduces High-Speed WiFi System for Farms
April 20, 2018
WiFi has become a necessity, and a proliferation of new WiFi devices have come to market for urban homes and Read More
Indian-Agriculture
AsiaIndian IoT Platform for Pre and Post Harvest Raises See…
April 19, 2018
Indian startup AgNext has raised an undisclosed seed round led by India-focused Agtech VC Omnivore Partners along with Singaporean angel Read More
Bayer-Forward-Farming
Industry NewsMaryland Farm Opens as Hub of Learning about Sustainabl…
April 19, 2018
Fourth-generation Maryland farmer Trey Hill measures the success of his operation not just by how many bushels of corn, soybeans, Read More
THRIVE
Industry NewsAgritech Startup Backers Announce New Corporate Partner…
April 18, 2018
Entering its fourth year, the THRIVE Venture & Innovation platform announced today the nine finalists and investment in its spring Read More
computer-in-field
EventsFinding Our Way in the Business of Precision Agricultur…
April 17, 2018
Service providers are the essential link between precision agriculture products and practices and the farmers who are increasingly relying on Read More
Farm-Storm-Clouds-Photo-Eden-Hills
Data ManagementThe Precipitation Problem in Agriculture
April 17, 2018
Precipitation is arguably the most important agricultural weather parameter, yet it is the most difficult variable to precisely measure. For Read More
Digital-Farming
Business Management7 Factors That Could Make or Break Digital Farming
April 13, 2018
Digital farming is the new technology genie – a genie that is now out of the bottle and cannot be Read More
SDSU-drone
Business ManagementInside the Key Strategies For Selling Precision Ag Serv…
April 13, 2018
In its earliest manifestation, the motive for developing precision agriculture service was entirely pure. Agronomists knew that crops were responding Read More
Facebook-phone
Data ManagementWhat Lessons Can the Ag Industry Learn from the Faceboo…
April 12, 2018
Today, a seemingly endless amount of ag data flows from growers’ fields into a host of technology platforms. It is Read More
DronesWhen High Value Crops Meet Inaccessible Areas: How Dron…
April 12, 2018
Avocados are one of the few crops in Chile that can economically be commercially cultivated on hills. On one hand Read More
Almond-trees-blooming
Sensors/IoTWhy Virtual Sensors Could Save California’s At-Ri…
April 12, 2018
To say that the Golden State can lay claim to the title of king of almonds might be an understatement. Read More