The Future of Farming & Food
For many of us, when we picture a farmer we think of a middle-aged man wearing an Akubra and with a red heeler by their feet, but the face of farming is changing. An innovative generation is coming up through the ranks and bringing with them a world of technology as Jolene Ogle discovers.
The Future of Farming
When I arrive at Vertical Farm System in North Arm I’m not greeted by a red heeler sniffing at my feet instead, I am greeted by the hum of machinery and the promise of a sustainable farming future. Vertical Farm System Executive Director John Leslie is the brains and brawn behind what could be the solution to the decline in farming production – a vertical farm.
As John tells me, there are only 86,000 farmers working tirelessly to feed 25 million people. I’m not a maths genius, but that doesn’t sound like a great ratio.
“The average vegetable farmer gets a four per cent return on their investment,” he says.
“That’s not a good return and it’s hard to convince investors to put money into an industry with such a poor return. “Simply put, the cost of food isn’t keeping up with the cost of production.”
John, a design engineer, decided to find a practical, sustainable and eco-friendly solution to the pressures bearing down on our farmers. He created the Vertical Farm System, a high-density farming technique that turns out 500kg of lush leafy greens every single Friday come rain, hail or shine.
With a passion for creating healthy foods, John developed a system that allows farmers to grow their crops inside in a controlled environment that ensures the plants have the perfect growing conditions. It’s a work of art. This amazing system mimics a wide-open field, except there is no soil, only kiln-fired clay pellets that are infused with microbes.
The water is harvested from the air’s humidity and the plants pull the water up from below their planting trays. This means there are no bugs or pests to worry about (which means no pesticides) and there’s no need to worry if it doesn’t rain for weeks.
“We can turn out 500kg of crop every seven days – that’s the equivalent of a farmer working 8 acres of land all year,” John explains.
“We harvest every Friday. Farmers and consumers need this consistency and we can provide that. This is a new and different way to farm.”
John’s Vertical Farm System is already being exported around the world, allowing growers in countries such as Canada to produce leafy greens in the middle of winter. It turns out the only way is up when it comes to the future of our food.
The Young Guns
The beep of a smartphone and the hum of a drone aren’t the usual sounds you would find on a farm, but they are fast becoming as natural as the grass you stand upon.
Traditional farming methods are being challenged with new technology allowing farmers to farm better and generate more nutritious food. Out at Kandanga Farm, local farmers Tim and Amber Scott are embracing technology to help them “fix the country” as well as produce high-quality organic beef.
For Tim, it’s all about regenerative farming and he loves any technology that will make this form of farming as easy as possible for ageing farmers.
“The average Australian farmer is in their mid-50s. We want to make it easy for a 58-year-old farmer to use their smartphone to not only farm but better the environment,” he says.
On their farm, Tim uses virtual fencing – a collar system that allows you to set the parameters of the grazing area using GPS, a low-frequency network and a smartphone. The virtual fencing system allows Tim to move the cattle into a new grazing area and protect the former grazing area without the need for electric fencing.
Previously, regenerative farmers would use a cage to reserve a small section of the pasture. Once the cattle are moved on, the height of the protected grass in the cage is used to gauge when the cattle can return. Now, an ultrasonic eye can simply measure the height of the grass and alert the farmer when it’s time to bring the cattle back.
The humble farm scale is also on the way out with farmers using artificial intelligence to measure and weigh their cattle using only photographs and with a 95 per cent accuracy rate.
“Technology isn’t taking jobs away from anyone,” Tim said.
“It’s helping us form a greater link with consumers. There’s such a focus on food and now, the person who can produce the most food and sell it the cheapest wins. We want people to buy food based on nutrition.”
Technological advances in farming are also expanding the scope of products available to consumers year-round. Companies such as Ecomarine grow and supply quality grouper to the local market. The fish are grown in Noosa in a saltwater breeding facility with a strong focus on sustainability.
This facility relies on disruptive RAS technology (recirculating aquaculture system) to create water chemistry that is close to perfect, as well as minimise discharge to the environment. The fish are grown using only natural products and with a very low environmental impact.
This innovative company can now supply sashimi-grade fish to demanding wholesalers and restaurants in the Asia and Pacific region as well as local suppliers. We can’t wait to see what the future of modern farming has in store for Noosa!
FIND OUT MORE
Kandanga Farm is hosting the 2019 Agvention on Friday 25 October. Farmers, locals, businesses or anyone interested in the future of farming is welcome to come along. See what’s new in farming with exhibitions from suppliers, start-ups, industry groups and those leading the way in modern farming techniques.
The event will have a Meet the Makers markets, a speakers tent, local entertainment and plenty of beers and banter in the Sundowner Lounge. There will also be a Field to Fork Feast packed full of local produce!
When: Friday 25 October, 10am to 4pm
Where: Kandanga Farm Store, Mary Valley
Click here to find out more!