The Futuristic Farms That Will Feed the World

A little bit of an indication of the pressure on the food system. We just face a huge challenge. With the growth in population, with the change in consumption behavior. With the climate crisis, how do you secure your food production? The real secret is sustainable production. It should be with fewer inputs, with less fertilizer, fewer pesticides, less water. It needs to be sustainable. Otherwise, we will destroy our planet, yeah? -The security of the food system is one of the world’s most pressing challenges. But the story of how this small country became an unexpected food superpower might just have some answers for how we tackle it.

Natural Resources Production

Consider this: if everyone on earth ate the diet of the average American, that would require all the habitable land to be used for agriculture, and we’d still be 38% short. And that’s right now. What do we do when there are two billion more people? Well, the key is more exciting than it sounds, and that’s efficiency. Basically, how do we produce a lot more on the land we’re already using, and do it using a lot fewer natural resources? – When it comes to sustainable agriculture, one country has seemed to crack the code. Bolstered by a national commitment to producing twice the amount of food with half the resources, the Netherlands has become the world’s number two food exporter.

It was a very close collaboration between the government, science organizations, and the industry. And they started out of common interest. So they say, okay, we want to go for sustainable production, but everybody was aligned. Everyone involved in the system was aligned and embraced innovation to reach that shared goal, and that has driven efficiency on a level unmatched anywhere else in the world. If there’s one place that approach is most clear, it’s in their unrivaled greenhouse growing operations. – There’s a very nice example of tomato which really gets a good insight into how we want to produce our foods in sustainable ways. So, if you produced tomatoes in an open field situation in Spain, then you will, uh, end up at the end of the growing season with four kilograms per square meter.

High-Tech Greenhouse

If you do this in a high-tech greenhouse in the Netherlands at the moment, you will end up with 80 kilograms per square meter which is 20 times more. But the best part of the story is that the 80 kilograms of tomatoes, we do it with four times less water compared to an open field situation. Water is one of the big challenges that we face. Just had a cup of coffee. Do you know how many liters of water were needed to produce that cup of coffee? Rough guess. So, high technology offers, really, a possibility of producing a lot of food per square meter in a sustainable way. The Dutch lead the world in tomato yield while using a fraction of the water that other countries use.

But it’s not just tomatoes. Measured by yield per square mile, they’re the world leader in the production of chilies, and green peppers, and cucumbers. Number five for potatoes, onions, and carrots. The list goes on. But the bottom line is they’ve been able to get so much out of so little. – If we are able to produce 80 times more with four times less water, that’s, that’s great. That’s great news.  Most people know that greenhouses allow a grower to tweak every little thing, but the Netherlands is taking it to the next level. They’ve perfected the greenhouse as the ideal environment to continuously test and implement all kinds of ways to optimize growth.

LED Lights

From things as simple as testing what hues of LED lights can increase pest resistance and improve nutritional value, to things as crazy as moth killing drones. – So we’re, at the moment, we don’t have any products who can control actually the moths. And then finally they will produce caterpillars, and those caterpillars can do a lot of harm to many different crops. A drone is able to detect the moth. Also, to see how it’s flying and with its wings, propellers will just, will just crush, actually, the moth. . There’s a relentless drive towards innovation to create better and more efficient growing techniques. They’ve even started taking the human touch completely out of it. Some of the latest techs rely on AI to learn plant behavior and constantly adjust conditions without any input from a farmer. –

For example, what we’re testing in this compartment is a climate computer. So we have different sensors, and actually, we measure the plant activity. Based on plant activity, the computer is actually controlling the whole climate by itself.

Super-Efficient Food Production

Ultimately, the key to solving our global food challenge isn’t just in relying on super-efficient food producers to carry the weight for everyone else, it’s learning from and adopting that technology. At the World Horti Center, you see that effort first hand in an ongoing experiment. They’ve built, basically, a greenhouse within a greenhouse. Inside the largest structure, they’re able to replicate any climate on earth to figure out what modifications need to be made to realize the same yields they’re getting in the Netherlands in any other country on earth. – We have a cooperative project going on with Columbia. And we can, in fact, mimic, we can emulate the climate, the current climate conditions in Columbia put their crop in and see how crop behaves under the circumstances that we have in Columbia. We can totally flip the seasons around.

We can make it a sunny day on Christmas. We can close the curtains on a sunny day and make it completely dark. I think, in the long run, the future of the Netherlands should not be to be a producer for the rest of the world.  We should be a developer for the rest of the world. – We are the country that will export our knowledge on creating production facilities all over the world. – Innovation starts, really, by bringing all these networks together. In the world we live nowadays, you need to link up with other people. You can’t do it on your own. We need to produce more. We need to do it with fewer inputs. And we need to do it better.