When glaciers and groundwater are slowly disappearing and the arid climate is intensifying, water pressure in many parts of the world has risen sharply, such as North China in China and California in the United States. In this case, there is a huge demand for how to use water resources more efficiently. This article examines emerging technologies and key innovations that are driving smarter water use in agriculture and food processing facilities that can help agro-food systems adapt to a water-depleted world:
According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, crop irrigation accounts for about 70% of global water consumption, so high-tech monitoring systems can ensure that irrigation water is used as efficiently as possible.
Ceres Imaging, a California-based agricultural technology startup, uses aerial images of farmland to run these images and analyze the health of plants using data models of specific crops. Ceres Imaging can use color infrared imaging to understand how much water is in the soil and use a proprietary water pressure index to detect irrigation problems. Israel's CropX has taken a different approach, using soil sensor IoT to analyze the moisture and other conditions in the farmland. Innovative irrigation systems are also helping farmers save water. For example, in the “drip irrigation pipes” laid along the crop rows, a drip irrigation is installed every other segment to spray a specific amount of water on each plant.
During the food processing stage, many factories consume large amounts of water for food cleaning. Then, the company must decide how to treat the resulting wastewater, most of which will be returned to the natural environment.
Some start-up companies are developing high-tech systems to help food companies find the secondary use value of wastewater. California start-up company Aquacycl has developed a microbial fuel cell powered by bacteria; it can treat wastewater and generate electricity. According to Orianna Bretschger, CEO of the company, the system developed by it can remove 70% of the suspended solids and high concentrations of carbon and sulfur in wastewater, so that the cleaned water can be recycled for cooling and other industrial purposes.
Facility agriculture allows growers to better control plant evaporation and soil drainage. They can also use recycling systems to recycle irrigation water, and can even use automated systems to precisely control the water consumption of each plant. Especially the indoor crops are grown in a clean and controlled environment, so it can effectively reduce the water consumption of agricultural products in the processing stage, and there is no need to wash them three times. Therefore, many facility agriculture companies claim to have a high water saving rate. When growing the same amount of agricultural products, their system reduces water consumption by 95% compared to traditional agriculture.
After 50 years, it is estimated that about half of freshwater sources will not be able to meet monthly water needs. Such drought conditions and concerns about future water shortages may continue to promote technological innovation in this area. Food growers and food producers may also find that increasing transparency in water conservation is attractive to consumers who value sustainable choices.