PERREAULT Magazine March 2014 - Page 42

Concerns over insects and fungis’ ability to become resistant to geneticially modified crops was still a serious concern, but scientist’s ability to employ powerful gene sequencing machines and supercomputers allowed them to create new versions of seeds at a faster pace than Mother Nature could adapt to them.

In a limited number of cases, the combination of the aforementioned advances allowed some farmers to switch from growing crops for food to growing crops for biofuels. In the American Southwest, land previously used for fruits and vegetables was transitioned to large algae farms and was now responsible for producing hundreds of millions of gallons of jet-fuel. In Brazil, large bio-reactors using only genetically modified organisms, carbon dioxide and sunlight were producing record amounts of biodiesel on lands previously used to grow sugar cane.

Another consequence of the unexpected increase in agricultural yield was that commodities such as corn and grain that had previously gone directly to the market for individual consumption were redirected toward the cattle and poultry industries as feedstock. This, in turn, allowed the meat and poultry industries to keep pace with the millions of new middle class citizens in Brazil, China and India who were seeking the more protein-rich diets that red meat and chicken provided.

So heavy was the demand that in certain regions a niche market for “in-vitro”—or lab-grown—meat had materialized. Scientific and biotechnology advances had reached the point where the taste and texture of many in-vitro meats was now indistinguishable from naturally produced meats. The former was still expensive, but some consumers were willing to pay the higher price because they viewed lab-grown meat as more humane (no animals were slaughtered in its creation) and more environmentally friendly (unlike a cow that must consume an average of 10,000 pounds of feedstock to produce 1,000 pounds of meat, in-vitro meat is created with zero waste).

In spite of this extraordinary progress, the world’s food situation was far from perfect. One downside to all of the additional land being farmed was, in spite of the creation of a variety of drought-resistant crops, the demand for water continued to increase. Advances in nanotechnology had yielded significant improvements in desalination technology and continued improvements in solar and tidal power were able to meet the power

requirements of the growing number of desalination plants, but the issue of rising salinity in the world’s oceans was gaining the serious attention of marine biologists and politicians around the world—especially in the Persian Gulf where vast quantities of the brine created by the desalination plants was being dumped back into the sea.

Also, advances in aquatic farming were slow to develop and, in 2017, officials at the United Nations called upon the governments of Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines to severely restrict both the number of fishing licenses granted and the areas those fishermen could operate. So severe was the state of the world’s fisheries that the number of endangered species had quadrupled in the past decade. In a handful of cases, the navies of Japan, China and the United States had been called upon to police the world’s ocean against rogue fisherman. In one testy standoff, the Chinese navy fired upon a small fleet of North Korean ships and set-off a dangerous international incident that caused the militaries in both countries to go on their highest alert and wreaked havoc on global supply chains as the world’s busiest shipping lane was disrupted for the better part of two weeks.

It was concern over growing water shortages—more so than the “acidification” of the world’s ocean—that fueled the growth of agriculture’s second big trend: urban farming. As the price of water skyrocketed during the previous decade, farmers, retailers and consumers alike reacted to the change. Farmers responded by planting genetically modified and perennial crops designed to use less water. They also employed more sensors and drip irrigation systems to accurately gauge exactly where and when to use water.

Retailers got into the act by demanding suppliers employ more hydroponic farming techniques in locations closer to major metropolitan areas. In America this resulted in underutilized land in the suburbs being re-devoted to farming. In one of the more innovative cases, a 100-acre mall outside of Kansas City was torn down and repurposed to hydroponic agriculture. Through the innovative use of mineral nutrient solution and water recycling techniques, the new farm had the double the yield of a conventional farm. In Detroit, the transition was more pronounced and, as growing amounts of acreage were put toward farming, the Michigan Department of Agriculture began marketing Detroit as “Grow-Town—The New Leader in Urban Agriculture.”

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