Joakim Rytterborn, Head of Research & Development at Plantagon:
"We're not killing the farmer – yet"
by Joakim Rytterborn, Head of Research & Development at Plantagon
Many Ag-Tech companies seem to believe so, arguing that with adequate farm data anyone can produce like a horticulturist. Such arguments have led many young entrepreneurs to jump head first into the emerging business of vertical farming, where outcomes often result in bankruptcy.
Any person could plant a seed and make it grow, but earning a living from agriculture is much more difficult. To grow a plant with optimal yield, you need to understand Liebig's law of the minimum. It states that growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource. Since there are many variables required for crop growth, determining those variables perfectly is difficult. If done incorrectly at the start, this feat becomes even more difficult to correct when the crop starts dying.
Today you can monitor almost any part of plant growth with sensors. You can use cameras to detect anomalies and Machine Learning to collect and interpret the “Big data”. The output will help find best practice and save lots of time identifying variables, or that sweet spot, needed for growth. All setups are different, however, and the differences in the setup can skew data collected; for example, if a ventilation system doesn't give all plants exactly the same airflow, the “Big data” will give false advice.
Even with the latest technology available, you can never replace an educated grower with sensors or remote supervision. You need skill and experience to detect limiting factors such as deficiencies and pests, and take appropriate actions.
In parallel to the development of new technology, we need to start educating a new generation of farmers: a vertical farmer that is equipped with a green thumb and adept at reading “big data”. Great steps in this direction have been taken by MIT’s OpenAg project, which strives for the “creation of an open-source ecosystem of food technologies that enable and promote transparency, networked experimentation, education, and hyper-local production”, and by Bright Agrotech, which launched an online learning platform dedicated to teach ”everything you need to know about growing”, called Upstart University. We need more initiatives like these if we are going to solve future food security issues. Seeing farming data as intellectual property with a price tag attached doesn’t serve a greater good.
Plantagon supports similar initiatives and believes in making this important occupation popular once more by collaborating with a Swedish state-owned company to educate future Urban Farmers. Technology will never replace the farmer, that's why you will always find horticultural experts at Plantagon urban farms.
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