DRIVING THE MIGRATION TO INDOOR AGRICULTURE
While there is no absolute certainty in science, which is only able to estimate probabilities, we seem to be experiencing increasingly extreme weather and changing trends in climate. This is nothing new, as history presents to us a parade of failed civilizations, where weather or climate changes resulted in crop failures.
Egyptian hieroglyphics talk of the failure of the First Kingdom, because for three years the Nile failed to flood the Egyptian fields. Other hieroglyphics talk of survivors, eating each other.
To explain the end the Mayan civilization, one archaeologist presented evidence of seven years of drought, triggering the abandonment of cities.
Today, some tell us that climate changes many significantly reduce agricultural yields, possibly resulting in world wide anarchy. Do we wait to find out?
Today, increasing percentages of agricultural products are grown indoors or in green houses. For various reasons, marijuana legalization is driving the development of methods and technologies that reduce the costs of indoor agriculture.
For example, at Almeria, Spain, the once barren coastline provides half of Europe's demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, with 45,000 acres of green houses on 115,585 total acres.
NetZero Greenhouses builds greenhouses that are able to draw water from the air, power from the sun, use flow cell energy storage, and additional lighting from LED lamps. The clear panels that roof the green houses transmit the wavelengths of light that the plants require, while absorbing other wavelengths of light to generate electricity. With over 1.5 billion dollars in revenue, these new agricultural factories produce food from previously barren land and are profitable.
The LED grow lamps are designed to put out the wavelengths of light that plants require, which means indoor growing can be done even where sunlight is completely unavailable. LED lights are the most efficient method of producing light from electricity, and do not contain mercury as do most fluorescent lights.
Wise farmers have always loved the land and learned that weather may wipe out or damage entire crop seasons. These new technologies make much more efficient use of natural resources and reduce the many of the random risks of open field agriculture.
My concern is that our progress is too slow, and money is being spent diverting critical flows of water to inland open field farms, which may not be productive with climate change. Spend this money on indoor agriculture, providing low interest loans to farmers in arid areas to implement agricuture that doesn't require irrigation. With indoor agriculture, we capture water from the air.
The Green Real Deal requires a consortium of academics, students, small businesses, and larger businesses. Non-profits of many flavors might join with political support and assist in smoothing public understanding of the benefits.
Institutions, such as University of Santa Clara, have competed quite successfully in environmental demonstration competitions. They can build green houses to be used by students from most departments in researching new methods and learning the realities of agricultural productions.
Once we get one major school to decide to build the first on campus green houses in Silicon Valley, the concept will spread virally, particularly with the number of groups that see the immediate environmental benefits.
Farmers, businessmen, and investors, can tour public displays of student projects and be given seminars and guided tours, by students majoring in marketing or senior management careers.
With the availability of an educated work force and actual example of how technology provide better methods, small businesses and later larger businesses would naturally be attracted to these incubators.
Currently, most green houses use manual labor, just like open field agriculture. Working with ASME and a university, we can begin the development of full automation of indoor agriculture. There are many scattered solutions that already exist, but there needs to be accelerated development of interoperability standards.
Agricultural autonomous vehicles increase the productivity per worker, providing well paying skilled jobs.
As with semiconductor automation, much of the new equipment and systems will come from small companies, as we see in open field automation. Much of the semiconductor automation technology is transferable to agricultural automation. There is a massive pool of former semiconductor technical people, who could easily be retrained in the minor details,while share decades of practical experience and leadership with the younger people at and currently graduating.
At this point it should be clear that there is an infectious passion when people turn from doom and gloom to building things together. With passionate leadership, this becomes like Habitat for Humanity on steroids.
Semiconductor automation brought us methods of statistical process control and the mathematical foundation of today's machine learning. Image processes allows for fully automated inspection of harvested produce.
Reusable trays that stack can be used, similar to the JEDEC trays that we used for transporting delicate semiconductors. These same trays can be used to display the sorted quality produce in the store. Once empty of sellable produce, trays with unsellable produce are returned to the farm. Tray are cleaned and reused, until worn out or lost, eliminating a major source of pollution. Unsellable produce is mixed with remnants of plants can be used a hydrocarbon feed stock replacing oil or turned into methane in disgesters. Reusable trays would be more durable, reducing the amount of produce damaged in shipping.
Standardized trays facilitate robotic delivery, storage, and stocking. Greater productivity in retail groceries, facilitates the hiring of better paid people, who have fun helping customers and building good will.
Hydroponic growing is common in modern green houses. With no dirt, plants are monitored and fed the nutriments that decades of research show are appropriate.
With positive air pressure and hydroponic grow media, there are no flying insects nor eggs in the soil. Therefore, there is no need for the use of pesticides. This eliminates the need for expensive pesticide residue testing.
As the US and Europe transition to automated indoor agriculture, the technology will defuse throughout the world. Every increase in the well being of people, improves the environment of all of us. Imagine rebuilding Mayan cites on the Yucatan Peninsula, where never again will their children be hungry. People still speak Mayan.