Sustainability within the food production processes is now more important than ever before. As climate change becomes more and more prominent, people become more concerned about environmental preservation. Inevitably, this leads to higher consumers’ awareness regarding food production sustainability. Modern consumers want to know if their food was grown without harming the environment and with minimum resources used while still being healthy and nutritious. Such state of things encourages businesses, food producers, and retailers to reimagine the way they operate and move towards sustainability, eco-friendliness, and higher efficiency. From ag monitoring with sensors, ground devices, special software to smart supply chain management, modern tech offers new opportunities for those committed to sustainability.
In this piece, we will discuss main sustainability trends in food and farming to see how they help food producers and agronomists in covering the growing quality food demand while saving resources hence preserving the environment.
Here are the main trends that foster sustainability in food production and distribution.
Food Waste Reduction
Fighting food waste is essential to fighting climate change. When we produce food, we need natural resources such as soil, water, and energy. These resources are often wasted or depleted throughout the supply chain, which affects the environment and climate change.
The UN Environment Programme states that approximately 1/3 of the annual global food production, roughly 1.3 billion tonnes are either lost or wasted. That is why modern food producers are constantly seeking new ways to address food loss and waste, aiming to create a zero-waste supply chain.
One of the critical issues that cause food waste is the long distance between supplier and consumer. The proximity of producers and consumers is the key to sustainability. If they are relatively in the same area, there is less transportation and fewer storage requirements, which significantly simplifies the logistics and its costs.
Another modern option developed for food waste reduction is upcycling. It enables food producers to benefit from surplus ingredients and by-products that would have been wasted otherwise. For instance, Olam Coffee has developed its own line of superfruit products using cascara – the fruit of a coffee cherry tree.
Supply Chain Transparency
One of the main factors contributing to the generation of food waste is the lack of transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain. When food moves from farm to grocery store, it goes through a huge number of middlemen – packers, wholesalers, distributors – each with their own system and process to track the product’s path. These systems are rarely interoperable and are often analog, making it nearly impossible to see what is happening in real-time. This, in turn, makes it extremely difficult for retailers to accurately forecast inventory requirements, resulting in surplus production and waste.
A solution to this can be blockchain. It’s a unified system that can be used for monitoring the path of food products from source to endpoint, allowing manufacturers and businesses to upload their data to a single, reliable source of data and information.
It is essentially a distributed ledger that provides transparency to everyone in the system. And this is nothing more than the same old bill of lading in the ledger, only in digital form. And the information contained in it exists on many computers in the network.
This not only dramatically reduces waste, but also allows stakeholders to conduct more targeted feedback in the event of a foodborne disease outbreak. The same data can be used to track sustainability parameters, such as CO2 emissions throughout production span.
Trivium Packaging research found out that above 70% of consumers are willing to pay extra for products in eco-friendly packaging that is recyclable and hence doesn’t harm the environment by creating waste.
A few years ago, major brands took a course towards creating sustainable packaging – biodegradable, made from recycled materials, or recyclable. In particular, McDonald’s plans on making all packages, wrappers, and cups out of recycled or FSC-certified raw materials by the year 2025. Unilever is another company that is picking up the green trend and aims to halve the number of plastic containers by 2025.
Basically, there are three ways to produce sustainable packaging:
- From biodegradable materials
- From recycled or recyclable materials
- From any materials under condition it’s reusable
Biodegradable packaging is made from organic materials: wood, cellulose, cotton etc. The examples of such packaging are craft paper, paper cups, and boxes. When it comes to recycled materials, it can be paper, plastic or glass.
Now, moving on to the main sustainability tech trends in farming.
The main goal of precision farming is to increase profit, efficiency and sustainability of the agricultural site. This is achieved through a combination of precision farming technology and equipment: satellites, drones, ground sensors, robotics, farming software. First, precision farming technology collects and analyzes data about soil and crops state and helps farmers make quick and reliable decisions about which seeds to plant in which area or where and what amount of fertilizer or water to apply. Then, once you have an idea of what needs to be done on your farm, precision farming equipment puts your plan into action. For example, you can perform seedbed preparation using automatic section control equipment and differentiated application rates.
Effective Agro-environmental Policy
The rapidly developing precision agriculture tech has ignited the trend of developing effective agro-environmental policies that would ensure successful implementation of such tech on farmlands. The research by the University of Kentucky has tried to explore the impact of precision agriculture adoption at both the farm level and the policy level.
In terms of policy, it turned out that the adoption of precision agriculture impacts the effectiveness of environmentally friendly policies depending on the type of technology or combination of technologies used. Policies tested included no-policy, nitrogen tax, nitrogen limit, carbon limit, and carbon tax. Ultimately, the research claims that quantity-based policies that rely on quotas and limits show higher effectiveness compared to technological change or uncertainty in environmental targets.
The researchers also conclude that with the growing popularity of data-driven agriculture, it is critical for policy makers to understand its impact on the farm and the environment. And although new tech that fosters farm efficiency can have huge benefits to the environment, it might do more harm than good if the policies are not aligned.