We cannot increase the surface area of the earth. In post-Corona, we will bolt towering plantations of vertical fields to the skins of residences from which we work remotely. We will grow Zero Carbon Foods using ebb-and-flow systems and portable micro-hydroelectric turbines to power LEDs thirty-three meters beneath the streets in bomb shelters in Clapham, North London, and in seven underground bunkers in Green Hill, Cedros and inside the buildings adjoining the Radar Base in Chaguaramas, and the bunker along the Covigne River Gorge in Tucker Valley.
By 2030, the water supply will fall 40 % short of meeting global water demands, and rising energy, labour, and nutrient costs will further pressure profit margins. By 2050, the world’s population will be 9.7 billion. Microclimates, aeroponics, and aquaponics will alter the economics of agriculture, and the economic impact of catastrophic weather events will increase environmental pressures.
We will completely eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides and double the nutrient density of foods. The white jellyfish roots of first-rate species will levitate in mid-air awash in custom-built light recipes of blue and red LEDs. Blue light is not ideal for the growth of basil or its flavour. Plants use only ten percent of the light spectrum. In addition, the sun does not apply a uniform mixture of light due to the earth’s rotation and cloud formations. So there’s a real open question: is sunlight old school?
Farming will split between open field cultivation of corn, coffee, cotton, rice, wheat, and cocoa – commodities that need wide open spaces far from cities where they can be harvested, stored and shipped. Plant Factories will focus on high-margin perishables like tomatoes, cucumbers and micro greens using hydro-film nutrient technology that will allow nutrient-rich water to trickle through pulverised coconut husk not Sphagnum moss, because coconut husk is renewable.
Vertical Farm technologies that use networked sensors already “listen” to a plant’s water, nutrient and carbon needs and deliver optimal light wavelengths – not just for photosynthesis but to alter the flavours of foods. Agtech disruption is in lighting, biomass increase and flavour density. Sensors send feedback on which colours and wavelengths a plant is using and if it is being saturated by others.
Automation will allow robots to move along the isle and pick what’s ripe using sensors and to replace them with seedlings. Delivered to shops using a “just in time” model amplifies Amazon Go to a new tier of “Freshness”. Supermarkets and edgy eateries will build shipping-container farms. These novel “grow-boxes” will be mobile, modular and have perfected indoor environments of irrigation and lighting. These wind powered “grow-boxes” fitted out with LEDs and sensors will house vertical grow racks and floating-rafts using rainwater capture from adjoining rooftops as entrepreneurs grow microgreens – baby kale, rocket, Asian-mix lettuces and watercress.
Incentivizing disruption by tax breaks can accelerate uptake. These boxes can mushroom into a new chain of “Branded Supermarkets” and restaurants displacing less-fresh and higher-priced imports and build resilience into supply chains. The innovation here is in the business model. Not just the technology and new uses for shipping-containers. This will initiate authentic agricultural industrialization. Chefs and supermarkets with Container Farms can alter light, mineral composition, pH balance, or stimulate drought to make a buttercrunch lettuce sweeter. Over time, Caribbean vertical farms and plant factories will create their own proprietary recipes of lights and nutrients and branded produce for export to Tel Aviv and Barcelona.
Martinique’s Habitation Clément Distillery and Grenada’s River Antoine Rum Distillers powered by a waterwheel are nostalgic. Reminiscing as bagasse boils on Hampden Estate and sugarcane juice ferments in open-air vessels before being distilled in copper pots is romantic. The wood-fire still on the shores of Cane Garden Bay at Callwood Rum Distillery is wistful. But the age of Data-Distilled Rum has arrived. Using a supercomputer to analyse more than 15 million social media posts, Virgin created a rum recipe that is a distinct blend of vanilla, sugarcane, cinnamon, allspice, and coconut. A Data-Distilled Rum breaks away from legacy thinking. Virgin has bottled the Caribbean holiday “Spirit”.
Artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, analytics, connected sensors, big data, robotics, and other emerging technologies have increased yields, improved the efficiency of water and other inputs, and built sustainability and resilience across open field crop cultivation and animal husbandry. Seeds, irrigation, and fertilizers have also vastly improved, helping farmers to increase yields.
In addition to new business-growth avenues, digital transformation in agriculture offers rich prospects for commercial excellence, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower costs. For 217 years, plantation life which began in 1787, and which ended with the closure of Caroni (1975) in 2003, interwove employment, infrastructure and commerce into the fabric of the Naparimas. These soils remain fragile. Indices of organic carbon, nitrogen and pH reflect significant decline correlated with reduced soil fertility and land abandonment.
Land use changes in the post-sugarcane era have resulted in approximately 14,000 hectares becoming available for possible agricultural diversification. However, the positive impact on domestic food supply that was foreseen has never materialized. Agriculture is in the early days of yet another upheaval, and data and the internet are central to this OpenAg revolution.