Food has become a new religion, and farming has divided into denominations.
That’s where the book “Food 5.0: How We Feed The Future” comes in.
We all probably know a smaller scale farm. Whether it’s a relative or vendor at your local farmers market, the work they do is amazing and appreciated. But the question lingers as to whether that kind of approach alone will feed the world?
With 2 percent of the population of North America working on farms, it is astounding to learn that a much smaller fraction of them produce a majority of the North America’s food. While the number of farmers may be in the millions, the farmers of consequence, running the family farms that produce over 80 percent of our produce, would probably fit in a single large football stadium. Farming is big business, it’s big money, it’s big risk, and it’s highly technical. These farmers are key to our survival, yet they have almost no voice.
That’s why Robert D. Saik wrote “Food 5.0.” It starts out suggesting that we live in the safest, most abundant time in history. Despite that, many people have “doom and gloom” mentalities and can sometimes treat food like religion — from vegan and pescatarian to gluten free and keto, among other dieting trends.
Now, we could all sit across the table and shout at one another, or we can figure out what we all agree on: Agriculture must be “infinitely sustainable”.
But what does that actually mean? If you ask that question to a group at the dinner table, they might do something they don’t always do, that is: sit back and “think” about the factors that would make agriculture infinitely sustainable.
We all care about healthy soil, water, and greenhouse gases balance. Organic matter increases carbon sequestration, water holding capacity, and nutrient availability. Rob asks the question, “What practices would increase soil organic matter?” Would we be better off heavily tilling the soil or is it better to use a soda can’s worth of Roundup per acre?
When you present these arguments, we can actually get somewhere and help people have a better understanding of what farmers do and why. If you think about it, 98 percent of farms are family farms. Many of these businesses have been in their families for over 100 years. Why would one say today’s farms are not sustainable? Farm viability really is of prime importance, for without that, there really is no sustainability.
We live in a tech savvy world. While people wait in line for hours to buy the latest Apple smartphone. That same technological convergence you find in the smartphone in your hand, applies to today’s modern farms as well. (For an example, check out this article I wrote about Apple orchards: Move over, Apple computer. Apple orchards are high tech, too) The reason Rob titled his book, “Food 5.0” is because it covers, in his opinion, the five iterations of agriculture:
- Genetic engineering
Muscle goes back to 10,000 years of drudgery. Machine goes into the invention of tractors, combines, etc., still alive and well today. Chemistry was a big part of the ’50s and onward, where chemical means were becoming mainstream as a way to control pests. In the 1990s, genetic engineering was introduced, which was really an era of de-chemicalization and net decrease of active chemical ingredient on a per-acre basis. This era also includes technological breakthroughs like CRISPR, gene editing, and nutragenomics, which are a big part of future human health improvements. Here also begins the exploration of 3D food, plant-based meat alternatives, and more. And the last part, convergence, is where we’re at today. Things like computational power, data, and autonomous farming, which has led to an explosion in productivity.
Technological advancement on the farm is ramping up. Check out the DOT Autonomous Robotic System — it’s like the “Swiss army knife” of farm equipment, doesn’t require a driver, and can be managed via remote control. Check out Know Ideas Media, operated by Nick Saik, who happens to be Rob’s son and who has spent years producing ag-tech videos. Rob is also working on AGvisorPRO, a connectivity platform that instantaneously matches a farmer’s problem with a deep-domain agriculture experts who can provide answers now. It is an iOS, Android, and desktop system that will connect the “high tech” of agriculture with the “high touch” still needed on today’s farms.
Data, data, data. Yet we don’t always hear about it, since the full-time farmers with the biggest food impact are a small, quiet percentage of the population. People such as Rob, Nick, and myself are working to change public perception and give the science a more mainstream, interesting voice.
The importance of modern agriculture is captured in Rob’s quote in the book:
We have to continue our quest for knowledge of modern agriculture. It is beyond fascinating once you take the time to submerge yourself in the science and understand how grand our food supply really is. Is the food system broke and unsustainable? Or do you have an optimistic outlook when you understand where we came from and where we’re going?
If you don’t already feel optimistic, you probably will after reading Rob’s book. “Food 5.0 How We Feed The Future” is available online and in brick-and-mortar bookstores. For more information about Rob, follow @RSaik, visit www.robertsaik.com, subscribe to their Know Ideas Media Tube Channel, email [email protected], or check out his TEDxTalk.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.