Vertical Focus | Agriculture

Vertical Focus | Agriculture

Unearthing the Land of Cotton

You can sell unwanted cotton clothes at a garage sale or donate them to avoid landfills, but what about burying them in soil? The Goondiwindi Circular Cotton Project in Australia recently found that old cotton textiles can improve soil quality on farms, potentially unearthing a large-scale circular solution for textile supply chains.

One advantage that cotton has over synthetic materials is its natural fibers quickly break down in soil. Because cotton fibers are made from cellulose, they become food for bugs and microbes, which means the soil becomes more active and favorable for growing cotton.

The Cotton Research and Development Corporation conducted a study in 2020, burying small squares of cotton into moist Goondiwindi soil and then incubating it for almost six months. Results showed that the shredded cotton increased the bacteria and fungus in the soils, had no impact on seed germination, and all but the tightest woven cotton pieces broke down significantly.

The cotton was shredded to resemble fluff, which was mixed with compost before it was spread across the paddock. Figuring out what to do about synthetic threads, zippers, tags, and buttons will be one of the next steps, the research says.

Farm to Plate Fills Up on AI and Blockchain

Food fulfillment often involves a fragmented supply chain. To fill the gaps, farmers and food retailers are looking to artificial intelligence and blockchain to make food fulfillment easier and more transparent. Here are two examples of the technology in use:

Japan-based Secai Marche received $1.4 million in seed funding from Rakuten and Beyond Next to build a logistics platform that bundles products from different farmers into the same order. It uses an AI-based algorithm to predict demand based on consumption trends, seasonal products, and farmer recommendations, making fulfillment more cost-efficient for farmers selling their crops to restaurants, hotels, and other food and beverage businesses domestically or overseas.

Paramount Software Solutions released Farm to Plate, a blockchain platform designed for the food supply industry that extends data-sharing transparency from the point of origin to the consumer to improve supply chain resilience and food safety compliance. Trace-and-track systems typically disclose information starting with the distributors, but Farm to Plate starts with the farmer, enabling complete supply chain transparency. Initial food demographics include meat, cheese, and produce, with a geographic focus on the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Wheat Could Be the Breadwinner

Farmers are gearing up to collect abundant wheat crops (see chart), which will help ease the recent global grain shortage and balance surging prices after global food costs reached nearly a decade high, says a Bloomberg report.

Spring rains hit the Black Sea region, U.S. Plains, and European Union, boosting suppliers’ prospects for wheat. The staple is the first major crop collected in the Northern Hemisphere, and hefty harvests will help replenish grain silos that were emptied by surging demand in China and unfavorable weather in 2020.

Conditions for soft wheat in France, the EU’s top producer, are the best for this time since 2015. In the United States, Kansas’ predicted yield, if realized, will be the highest on record for the breadbasket state, with well-timed rains late in the season boosting prospects.

For now, some wheat-importing countries are holding out for cheaper prices. Top importer Egypt canceled its third order this year, and Saudi Arabia booked less supply for August and September than expected, the report says.

Cracking the Green Egg Market

Next on the menu for the $6.1 billion U.S. egg industry is introducing climate-friendly eggs and recyclable egg cartons into food supply chains. Producers are shifting to sourcing eggs from farms using regenerative agriculture, which implements special farming practices to cultivate rich soils that trap greenhouse gases.

Labeled organic and animal friendly, these eggs are appearing on supermarket shelves for as much as $8 per dozen while some cartons of conventional eggs still sell for less than $1. The industry is waiting to see if consumers are willing to pay that much more for the greener option.

It’s not only the eggs themselves that are getting greener. Packaging solutions provider Huhtamaki released Smilepack, a 100% plastic-free, molded fiber egg carton, in the United States and Brazil. Designed specifically for the egg industry, the cartons provide a sustainable alternative to traditional polystyrene foam and plastic packaging.

The egg cartons are made with fiber recovered from recycled paper, which can be reused up to seven times. The cartons can be recycled with regular paper and are compostable. One large U.S. producer and distributor of free-range eggs is already using Smilepack, which will eliminate approximately 4.6 million plastic egg cartons or 200 metric tons of plastic annually.

Agtech Takes Farming Indoors

The indoor farming industry must manage a complex supply chain in which produce is traditionally grown in one location and shipped thousands of miles, risking food-born illness, excessive emissions, and bottlenecks. Agtech innovations feeding the space include:

Desert farms. AeroFarms broke ground on the world’s largest vertical farming research center in the United Arab Emirates. The research center will help advance controlled environment agriculture in arid and desert climates and address global agriculture supply chain issues. It is expected to be completed and operational in the first quarter of 2022.

More berries. California Giant Berry Farms and agtech startup OnePointOne are partnering to improve accessibility to fresh berries. OnePointOne’s automated, indoor farming technology improves crop quality and is closer to end consumers. It uses 99% less land and water than traditional agriculture and is 100% free of pesticides. OnePointOne will grow the berries in its automated indoor farm. This data paves the way for improved nutrient density, taste, and availability, while minimizing environmental impact.

Fresher greens. Indoor farming company BrightFarms recently invested millions to form a new research hub in Ohio. Its lettuce is healthier, tastier, and fresher than field-grown produce transported from the West Coast, the company says. Its five greenhouses produce 9 million pounds of spinach, romaine, and arugula each year using a hydroponic system and natural sunshine. BrightOS, the company’s AI system, collects millions of data points to streamline operations.

In-store farms. Swedish vertical farming company Swegreen recently agreed to produce hyper-locally grown vegetables for ICA Focus with an automated cultivation system located inside the grocer’s Gothenburg store. This Farming-as-a-Service model enables food retailers and restaurants to offer consumers fresh crops year round, harvested on site.

The farm has a cultivation room, sensors, and an AI-based control system that optimizes the environment remotely, the company says.