Innovation in Farming: Successful Agricultural Trends of a Technologically Advanced Era

In 1798, economist Thomas Malthus predicted that the world would exceed its food supply by the late 20th century. While he was right to identify the challenges of feeding a growing population with a finite amount of land, in the last half a century agricultural production has tripled.

Agriculture today is about so much more than a farmer simply planting a seed, rearing a cow or catching a fish. It takes a whole ecosystem and a host of actors to work together to produce the food we need for a population of more than seven billion people. This complex agricultural production system has evolved over time through scientific discoveries and other innovations. It is this dynamic nature that will equip agriculture to cope with the competing challenges of addressing food and nutrition security, improving livelihoods, combating climate change and sustainably managing natural resources. The innovation in agriculture means the ways it works, the benefits it provides and the future challenges it must still help us to overcome. Everything in universe is changing and these changes have positive or negative impacts on surrounding. Agriculture is an important occupation of majority in the world. It’s undeniable that farming relies on innovative practices. Such innovations are often associated with groundbreaking technologies and practices. However, transformation in farming has often been accompanied by smaller changes. As long as there has been agriculture, there has been agricultural innovation. From crop rotation and field terracing to the invention of various agricultural machinery and integrated crop solutions, innovations big and small have brought agriculture to where it is today.

Throughout the evolution of modern agriculture, three major trends come to mind: the “Green revolution” occurring between the 1930’s and the late 1960’s, advances in breeding and biotechnology in the late 1990’s, and the present “green data” revolution.

In addition to these wider scale trends, innovation is often realized through the combination of many small measures, such as more efficient and precise machinery, advanced irrigation systems, continuous improvement of varieties or the combination of data sequences with technology for decision making support tools in crop protection.

With the passage of time, needs of people climbed enormously. Agriculture is also changing and becoming advance with every passing day. Agricultural operations are more innovative and modern now and quiet dissimilar from conventional agriculture. Previously, tilling of soil was done with bullocks and seeds were dispersed with hands. At that time farming was very simple, a person grows crops for grains to feed his family and fodder for animals. Farmer worked on their land to produce crops for their own domestic use.  They tended to plant a variety of crops so that they became self-sufficient. Ground water was used for drinking and irrigation purposes. Yields were lesser than the present levels. Farmers practiced the barter system. By doing so, they were able to exchange the agricultural products with other farmers. Soils were dark colored with high organic matter. Incidence of diseases in plants and animals were not much frequent. Environment was pure, healthy and safe due to absence of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. This old scenario does not prevail anymore because of skyrocketing increase in population, urbanization, industrialization and rising desire for better and modern life style.

Modern agriculture is the need of the present time. It covers all the advancements applied in agriculture to increase per unit production of food. To accomplish the needs of millions of people, modern agriculture is necessary. It ensures maximum production which requires heavy use of mechanization and inputs. From sowing, the process is started, in modern agriculture; intensive tillage at frequent basis is required. The topsoil is fertile layer that provides nutrients to crop plants, that’s why it is necessary to shuffle the soil before sowing. It is essential for maximum production to cut and invert the soil and make fine seed bed for successful germination of seeds. Fertility levels of soil are becoming low because of high cropping intensity. In ancient times a piece of land had 25% cropping intensity but now worldwide average cropping intensity is 100-150%. Soils required fallow periods and restorative crops after cultivation of exhaustive crops like cotton and sugarcane but it is not practiced. Modern agriculture deviates from basic principles of crop rotation.

Today, there is a wide new frontier for science and innovation in agriculture. There are many ways to grow food and fiber, and so much to learn about the science of growing crops.  Modern farming is full of opportunities for agricultural partnerships with scientists in fields that range from biology to robotics. Imagine all the areas where science and agriculture might meet—the future of agriculture is now.

The world population will grow to 10 billion by 2050. The demand for agricultural commodities is forecast to double, compared with the turn of the millennium. As arable land is naturally scarce, the only way to meet the demand for high-quality supplies to the constantly growing world population is for farmers to produce more on the same area of land. The keys for this include innovative plant protection products and mineral fertilizers.

In modern agricultural systems farmers believe that they have much more central roles and are eager to apply technology and information to control most components of the system, a very different view from that of traditional farmers. In contrast to the isolation inherent in traditional arrangements, modern agriculture tends to see its success as dependent on linkages access to resources, technology, management, investment, markets and supportive government policies. As a result, much of the success of modern systems depends on the development and maintenance of soil fertility through the specific provision of nutrients when they are depleted; of machine power and technology to create soil conditions necessary to promote plant growth with minimal disturbance and minimal soil loss; of the use of improved genetics for crops and livestock to enhance yields, quality and reliability; and, on modern genetic and other techniques to protect plants and livestock from losses to competing plants, diseases, drought insects and other threats. This success also depends on access to efficient, effective irrigation to supplement rainfall in many climates; on advanced harvesting, handling and storage equipment and techniques to prevent losses and to market commodities efficiently. It depends, in turn, on both public and private investment to provide access to technology, equipment, information and physical facilities throughout the production-marketing system. And, it depends on well supported commercial and financial systems and broad public policies that support effective commercial markets at all levels that generate economic returns throughout the system. Modern agriculture in developed countries including the United States involves far more than farms and farmers—it depends on enormous, highly sophisticated systems that move, store and processes producers’ output throughout an extensive value chain that extends to food products and final consumers. For example, these activities taken together contribute well over $1.2 trillion to the US GDP annually and support nearly 24 million jobs and while farm production and productivity are the bedrock of this system, they account directly for only small shares of the system’s GDP and jobs—6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

While the phrase, industrial farming is frequently intended to deride modern farm organization, it is impossible to ignore the fact that agriculture, like other sectors, has become much more productive as machines and computers have eliminated the most laborious (and, dangerous) parts of the job and farming communities have educated their children to choose, in many cases, other careers and the number of people who want to work on farms in the old, labor-intensive way is very small. The result is that hand-labor-intensive crops (e.g., coffee, strawberries…), or high labor cropping systems (e.g., organic) appear to be on a collision course with demographic trends, since the pool of unskilled, low cost farm labor upon which those crops and systems have depended appears likely to continue to decline and increasingly to make non-mechanization an increasingly non-viable option.

Agriculture glimpse of Pakistan

Agriculture sector is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy as it contributes around 20 percent in the overall gross domestic product (GDP) – which stands for the total value of all final goods and services produced within the economy during a certain period-  and is also a big source of employment. It helps meet the food requirement of ever increasing population, providing raw materials to all the major industrial sectors including textiles, leather, sugar, flour milling etc., and has a significant role in decreasing rural poverty.

As per Economic Survey of Pakistan (ESP 2015-16), out of total contribution of agriculture to the GDP major crops contribute 4.67 percent to the GDP, other crops 2.25 percent, livestock 11.61 percent, fisheries 0.43 percent and forestry 0.41 percent each.

This sector also provides 65 percent of the total exports of Pakistan. Further breakdown shows 73.2 percent is cotton and cotton based products while fruit, rice, livestock and others contribute 26.8 percent.

As per the ESP 2015-16, the agriculture sector provides employment to 42.3 percent of the country’s total labor force while in Punjab it provides employment to 43.5 percent of the people in the province, and to more than 61 percent in the rural areas.

The other side of the mirror

Exploitation of natural resources is the foremost negative aspect of modern agriculture. As this type of farming mainly focus on mono-cropping and it creates insect pest attacks, disease incidence and development of weed flora, Herbicides and insecticides resistance, micronutrient deficiency and ultimate reduction in crop productivity. Modern agriculture relies on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, soil conditioners and plant growth regulators; these all chemicals are murderous for soil sustainability and biological life and a threat to environment. Farmers need to use these synthetic products vigorously for quick control against problematic agents to their crops. Soils have been degraded due to soil erosion, intensive tillage and non-judicious use of machinery. Excessive use of chemicals badly affects soil’s microorganisms and also pollutes the ground and surface water. Utilization of such synthetic products in plants as well as in livestock animals at higher amount is immoral and has worse effects on human health. There are a number of diseases caused due to high use of pesticides, herbicides and growth regulators.

GHGs emission due to the non-judicious exploitation of natural resources is also one of the issues. Global temperature is increasing furiously, glacier and melting and floods are coming. Rainfall patterns are also changing which results in droughts and floods. Modern agriculture mainly focuses on resource exploitation, energy exploration, production enhancement and profit maximization. Food quality management, protection of environment, economic stability, moral obligations, system stability and conservation of natural resources has been given secondary importance. This is injustice with community and upcoming generation.

What to do?

No doubt, modern agriculture is the need of time to feed the increasing population. There are some pragmatic approaches that can be helpful in this regard. There should be adoption of resource conservation technologies and adoption of sustainable measures along with the proper use of synthetic chemicals along with manual, mechanical and cultural practices to get rid of insect pests. For water conservation laser land leveling, mulching and cover crops should be used. Deforestation should be discouraged due to the wild life forests which are the only habitats. Shelterbelts should grow on field borders. Use of organic products, manures and composts should also be encouraged. Integrated approaches must be adopted because we cannot slow down the increasing population but we can reduce the use of harmful products. Integrated pest management (IPM), integrated disease management (IDM) integrated weed management (IWM) integrated nutrient management (INM) can be helpful for sustain environment and agriculture. Awareness must be aggravated in farming communities. Improved agricultural practices (ICPs), On-farm management practices (OMPs), good agricultural practices (GAPs) collectively can ensure the success. Extension workers and researchers should promote resource conservation and media should help to spread these words. For better production in a safe and naturally preserved system, collective efforts from institutions, research teams and farming community are needed.

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About Saima Zaman 40 Articles
Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.