Technology-Powered Farming

As cities continue to grow, so does the need for sustainable farming practices.

Future of Cities2As we consider the city of the future, we often think about the ways technology will make life easier and more interesting for urban dwellers. And while the prospect of optimized traffic flows, better use of energy and other resources, and new gadgets and sensors makes city life ever more convenient, we also must face the potentially threatening implications of rapidly increased urbanization.

The reality? The population across the world’s top 750 cities is expected to increase by 410 million by 2030. Better infrastructure, more access to vital resources and logistics to coordinate these complex, growing city centers will not be a luxury. They will inexorably become mandatory.

Finding food to feed growing numbers of city-dwellers represents a major challenge, as current farming practices are unsustainable, climate change is disrupting planting seasons, and demand for food will only grow over the next decade.

How will cities of the future find the resources to feed this huge increase in population, especially as urban areas creep into land that might otherwise be used for farming?

Looking for a Solution

Researchers at MIT are now testing aeroponics—a method of growing produce without soil—as an alternative to traditional farming practices.

Aeroponics nearly eliminates the use of water by using mist instead, and it requires no fertilizers. What’s more, aeroponics requires significantly less space—a precious commodity in an urban environment. The “vertical greenhouse” may be the best method for cities of the future to produce the foodstuffs they need.

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Aeroponics nearly eliminates the use of water by using mist instead, and it requires no fertilizers.

This method, of course, is not cheap, but cities should not put off rethinking land use and farming practices. Traditional farming is already being improved by new technologies.

For example, the use of Big Data is changing the nature of farming. With data on everything from light balance and intensity to air and soil quality, farmers today can be increasingly precise and efficient in their cultivation practices.

Some argue that smaller farms will not be able to keep up with technology fast enough to make use of Big Data, but the consumerization of IT is making the same equipment available to smaller operators.

As climate change and increasing urbanization change both the demand for and the available supply of crops, the application of real-time data will be vital to the health and success of farming—and urban—communities.

A Significant Investment

New technologies and methods of farming may require significant upfront investment. Yet it is imperative that cities draw up plans for new approaches to agriculture. With consumption increasing in urban spaces and the methods of transporting food to those areas becoming more and more burdensome, land and resources within cities will become an increasingly important issue.


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Likewise, urban residents are demanding more “farm to table” solutions in which they support crops and farmstands developed nearby.

And when it comes to food waste, there’s actually no need for it to be waste at all – in fact it is a very valuable resource.

Anaerobic digesters can turn it into methane and fertilizer, with the methane being an excellent source of energy or fuel that can be used to generate electricity or heat, or to power the vehicles that deliver the food.

A perfect example of ‘the circular economy’: using the output from one process as the input for another to eliminate waste and maximize resource.

Developing sustainable practices within urban environments will be the way forward for cities of the future. goldbrown2

Peter Harris is Director of Sustainability for UPS Europe. He has worked for UPS for 27 years, holding positions as UK Automotive Director, as well as UK Industrial Engineering Director. He holds a Masters in Engineering from Cambridge University, UK, and is a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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