Popular Science magazine did a nice job providing readers with a glimpse into the precision agriculture research that is needed to grow twice as much food by 2050. The writer talked about how this challenge is everyone’s problem, but scientists are hard at work fomenting a second green revolution.
Here are the research projects that the magazine chose:
1. Sahara Forest Project — Greenhouses using seawater and solar power to grow cash crops in the desert.
2. Soil sensors — Research at Iowa State University into wireless soil sensors that may help farmers use water, fertilizer and other inputs more efficiently.
3. Improved rice — Researchers hope to turn this staple crop into a super rice that grows faster in warmer and drier climates by transforming its photosynthesis process.
4. Replace fertilizer — Michigan State researchers attempt to replace/reduce commercial fertilizer use with microbes. They are currently field testing microbial cocktails (Bio-Soil Enhancers) that can simultaneously reduce the need for phosphorous and nitrogen, protect plants against pathogens and boost yields in virtually any type of crop.
5. HarvestChoice — The Gates Foundation is funding data compilation of Africa’s agricultural systems and land use to increase yields to feed the growing continent.
6. Satellite soil moisture — NASA and USDA are working to monitor soil moisture levels around the globe to hopefully improve crop forecasting.
7. Robot labor — The challenge of American specialty crop growers finding human labor is increasing difficult. Current research using robots with a variety of sensors will help machines scan for fungus, growth rate, soil moisture, humidity, light levels and more. But cost of such technology is the current challenge.
8. Rebuilding soil — Scientists hope to turn waste into a charcoal that, when applied to degraded unproductive soil, will attract microorganisms to help plants access nutrients, hold more water and lock in carbon. Companies are working on portable machines to produce biochar on-site.
9. Make supercrops — Research is bioenginering the African staple crop cassava root to turn it into the PowerBar of the vegetable world. They’re attempting to increase protein, add vitamins, increase shelf life, add virus resistance and eliminate cyanide-producing toxins in the root.