Science + Feed the World

Feed the world

Smarter cultivation

By Karen Keast

With a career is agriculture, you could develop groundbreaking technologies to tackle some of the world’s major food security challenges.

Agricultural science is an amazing future career area, says Dr Joanna Jones, a lecturer and research fellow in the University of Tasmania’s (UTAS) School of Land and Food.

“It’s all about developing innovative tools and helping growers improve what they do,” she says. “It’s a really exciting time to be in agriculture!”

UTAS students and researchers are tapping into ‘future ag’ – innovative technological agricultural solutions – to boost sustainability and productivity in the premium apple and grape fermentation sector, which produces cider and wine.

Crop and orchard data collected from small aircraft and drones, equipped with a range of smart sensors that can pinpoint disease hotspots and nutrient deficiencies, are being investigated as potential tools.

Harnessing the power of technology, UTAS PhD candidate Iain Clarke is examining grape vine health using an imaging scanner in an unmanned aerial vehicle, with the aim of developing an app that will boost growers’ productivity.

“Examining crops in this way will allow growers to rapidly identify problems early and reduce crop losses,” he says.

Driving innovation to feed the world

“The big challenge for the future is to feed the world in a sustainable way,” says Professor Martin Cole, deputy science director at CSIRO Agriculture and Food.

But producing sustainable food for the future will require some serious innovation. Agriculture must reduce its impact on the environment so we can continue to feed the world without harming the planet, he says.

A study from the Global Harvest Initiative shows that worldwide food production is falling short of targets, and it must ramp up by 1.75% annually in order to feed an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050.

“In the next 40 years, people across the globe will eat the same amount of food that has been consumed in the past 500 years,” Martin says.

Genetic engineering – the modification of an organism’s genetic material like the DNA inside cells – is a step forward for sustainable food production.

At CSIRO, for example, scientists are working to boost the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. These are essential for our health and are found in fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables.

Wild fish like salmon, herring, bluefish and mackerel are a prime source of omega-3 because when they eat microalgae they accumulate omega-3 fats in high levels. But dwindling fish stocks can’t keep up with high consumer demand so scientists are using marine algae genes to grow canola crops bolstered with omega-3 oils.

“We’ve created a land-based source of fish oil that’s sustainable – we can calculate that one hectare of canola saves 10,000 fish,” Martin says.

CSIRO is also trialling virtual fencing for cattle – a game-changing technology that uses ear tags with electronic signals linked to GPS satellite technology, which allows farmers to optimise grazing while harnessing data on pasture productivity and quality.

With such a variety of exciting new careers available to help feed the world, the sky’s the limit for the future of agriculture – and our planet.

GET INTO SCI + FEED THE WORLD!

Check out some work and study options…

CAREERS

Environmental scientist *$67, 143

Food technologist *$58,395

Agronomist *$60,877

Graduate DIPLOMA of…

Food Science and Technology, Curtin University 

Agribusiness, University of Queensland

BACHELOR of…

Agribusiness, University of Queensland

Agrifood Systems, University of New England

Science in Agriculture, University of Sydney

Genetics (Hons), Australian National University

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

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