Droughts and water scarcity are making it increasingly difficult to farm for a growing global population. And while those supply factors could be disastrous if not addressed, newer technology applications are tackling the demand side of the equation.
In Africa, for example, farmers are just starting to replace traditional irrigation with drones to be more effective. A farmer in Zimbabwe cut his water costs 60 percent, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of annual savings on just one of his crops while lessening the farm’s stress on the local water supply. Using the drones — which cost about $4,000 and have a 15-liter capacity — the farmer transports water from a nearby dam. The drone reduces and eliminates the need for the pipes and sprinklers infrastructure of a traditional irrigation system.
The farmer says he can cover more than 30 acres in 30 minutes with precise distribution using drones, an improvement over traditional irrigation where most of the water seeps through the topsoil to the underlying bedrock. Another farmer in that country reported saving money and getting a nearly 90 percent better yield across his crops, which include tobacco and cabbage.
In America, a new style of farming may provide a model for urban agriculture that uses 95 percent less water in the process.
Inside a warehouse, Bowery Farming in New Jersey grows vegetables under meticulously controlled conditions. Seedlings are grown under LED lights that have been tuned to mimic the sun and plants sit on racks that move around the facility on robotic conveyor belts, allowing for easy access. The entire operation runs on purified water, which is then recycled and reused through the system to minimize waste.
Because the environment is contained, Bowery can grow year-round without concern for weather and seasons. Officials there say the indoor farm can be 100-times more productive than a traditional farm on the same footprint.
Although it may be a while before drone watering and indoor farming model have a big enough impact to feed billions of people, they are a step in the right direction as droughts are expected to last longer, be more intense, and be spread over wider areas in the years to come.