Sustainable Agriculture Is One of the Biggest MegaTrends Happening Now

Agricultural Sustainability Means Decoupling Energy Costs from Food Prices

Have you ever noticed that when the price of gasoline at the pump starts going up, the price of food goes up as well?  This isn’t a coincidence. There’s a firm link between food prices and the price of oil because the tractors, water pumps, cultivators, plows, etc. all run off of fossil fuels.

It’s estimated that in the US, 60% of all farm equipment runs off of diesel fuel, and don’t forget that the truck that takes produce to the market runs off fossil fuels as well. We all know there’s a finite supply of fossil fuels. Therefore, farms that are highly dependent on diesel are inherently not sustainable over the long term. Moreover, burned fossil fuels from diesel engines are a strong contributor to climate change, which also reduces the sustainability of farms.

The current best methods for decoupling energy costs from food prices, and thus bolstering sustainability, are using batteries and maybe even fuel cells to power tractors and other farm equipment.

 

Cut-away view of a tractor produced by New Holland that runs off a hydrogen fuel cell. (Source: wikiwand.com)

 

However, in order to maximize improvements in sustainability, the electricity that charges the batteries and the hydrogen that powers the fuel cells must necessarily come from green sources. Solar, wind, and maybe even nuclear power are necessary for this. Regarding hydrogen, the EU is hard at work building hydrogen generating electrolysis plants that are powered by wind power from wind farms in the North Sea.

 

Desalinization

Drought has certainly been a big topic this summer. The Southwest US is experiencing a very serious drop in water levels. The Colorado River, which major cities like Los Angeles have depended on, has reached record low levels. Likewise, in Central Europe, rivers like the Danube and the Rhine are becoming nearly unnavigable for ships because the water levels are so low.

Be sure that lack of water has affected farming in these regions. If new sources of water aren’t found, sustainability will certainly suffer. The overall amount of water on Earth is pretty constant. If it’s not on land somewhere, it’s either widely dispersed in the air or in the ocean. Desalination plants make ocean water available for sustainable farming.

Countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Israel, and United Arab Emirates have become experts at converting sea water into fresh water. Desalinization technology used in processes such as reverse osmosis and thermal multistage flash is constantly improving. These technologies will in the future become cornerstone pieces for improved agricultural sustainability.

 

Desalination plant on the Mediterranean Sea in Israel. (Source: blogs.timesofisrael.com)

 

The Internet of Things to the Rescue

While we’re on the topic of water resources, given the scarcities that exist today, farmers need to be more careful than ever to make sure no water gets wasted. Many farmers have begun using flying drones equipped with multispectral sensors that can evaluate the moisture content of the soil in their fields. This information is transferred back to a computer or smartphone, and water is distributed to the fields most in need.

Autonomous driving technology has also found its way to the farm. Tractors from the likes of Deere & Co (NYSE: DE) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) are now equipped with GPS. The GPS is used by these vehicles to navigate around the farm and the fields. Autonomous driving saves fuel and helps to decouple energy costs from food prices.

Another interesting example is how the internet of things is helping sustainability with dairy and beef cattle. Cows need to be healthy and happy to provide good dairy products and reproduce efficiently. So, some ranchers and farmers now wrap special internet-equipped heath monitors around the necks of their cattle. They’re kind of like a Fitbit for cows!

 

Happy cows wearing Fitbits for health monitoring. (Source: independent.ie)

 

Caretaker monitoring the health of his cattle using a smartphone app. (Source: agfundernews.com)

 

The animals’ caretakers can monitor their herds’ health via a smartphone app. Through doing so, ranchers can constantly monitor their cows’ health and rapidly take medical action when necessary, rather than waiting until the animal or herd’s health is in real crisis.

 

MegaTrend: Sustainable Agriculture

See, I told you not to worry. Farmers and agriculture scientists, not to mention IT engineers, have come up with many very effective methods to promote sustainability. You can file this one away under humanity’s fight for survival. Technology to improve the sustainability of the food supply will continue as long as there are people.

The technology will keep getting more advanced and more effective. That’s why we’re calling sustainable agriculture a true MegaTrend. It’s why we have stocks in our portfolios that reflect this MegaTrend, as well as others we’ve identified.

 

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