Integrating sensors, electronics, control, power systems and ICT engineering into agriculture is a key enabler for delivering improved food supply and sustainable energy production without increased burden on the limited fertile land-bank. This exploitation of non-traditional technologies to improve global farming is extremely timely given the projected growth in the world population from 6.5bn, in 2006, to 8bn by 2025 and 9.3bn in 2050 (US Census Bureau estimates). In parallel by 2020 numerous governments, including the UK and US, intend to derive substantial volumes of fuel from a new generation of farm crops. As a consequence yields from existing arable land need to increase by 50%. Population trends, with large increases in Asia, also show that global trade in agricultural produce must intensify further as Latin America will no longer be capable of providing the shortfall in food for Asia. It should be noted that, following the UK Government’s announcement for decarbonisation of the electricity supply by 2050 agriculture will then become the country’s dominant source of GHG emissions. The Keystone Alliance report on sustainable agriculture indicates that 13.5% of total global GHG emissions currently occur as a direct consequence from Agriculture and a further 17% from deforestation and land transformation. In the US Agriculture accounts for 10% of GHG and in the UK it is 11%..
What is e-Agri?
Although there are numerous leading universities and independent research centres which are focused towards meeting the needs of the Agri-Food sector, these are bio-centric and lack the breadth of appropriate technical competencies to approach the problem strategically. For instance, many people are aware of the capabilities of RFID tags and these are an attractive proposition for solving numerous ‘logging’ challenges using ‘off-the-shelf” technology. However, only technical experts will be fully aware of the opportunities that are emerging in sensors, electronics, control, power systems and ICT. Currently, technical expertise is typically sought on an ‘as needs’ basis which, naturally, becomes rather ad-hoc and unstructured. There are no precedents for a large dedicated electrical and electronics team to lead the effort to make future farming and food supply viable using technical expertise. The term e-Agri is suggested to reflect the pivotal role to be played by the electronics community in addressing these challenges. As such, central to the Manchester team’s e-Agri philosophy is partnering with the principal bioscience based Agri-Food universities and research institutes in the UK and elsewhere.