CROP ROTATION VS. FOOD LABS
A recent episode of the long-running Dutch documentary series “Tegenlicht” showed two ways of organic food production:
* Crop rotation
* Food labs
Which one is the way to go?
Crop rotation is a system that’s been around for thousands of years. You grow one type of crop this season, and then a different type of crop in the next season - both on the same piece of land. This alternation helps to avoid exhausting the soil and to control insects and diseases.
As old as this idea is, it is still makes a lot of economic sense.
In the video below, Craig Wichen of Farmland LP explains how his investment company (!) applies crop rotation at enormous scale, with impressive results. By using the latest technology and big data, he is able to optimize the production while keeping the land fertile.
Crop rotation takes full advantage of all nature has to offer.
A very attractive, likeable approach to farming - and clearly financially sound in today’s market when you do it at scale.
However, even if you do this at scale, you are still dealing with all kinds of variables like insects, the weather and the seasons - causing the produce to vary in quality and quantity.
That brings us to the second example from the documentary:
There’s a greenhouse farm in The Netherlands by the name of “Deliscious”. They produce lettuce all year round - great, but nothing special there.
The unique aspect is how they grow the seeds into lettuce plants. They have four "climate chambers": 8 meter high sealed off rooms with no daylight. Purplish LED lighting provides all the light for the lettuce plants.
Watch the video, it’s impressive...
In these climate chambers, all climate conditions (such as light and humidity) are fully controlled, resulting in uniform growth all year round. The 7 ‘fields’ are stacked on top of each other, maximizing the space. Robots do most of the work.
It’s fast. It’s efficient. It’s competitive. But it doesn’t look like traditional farming at all.
So what’s the verdict?
Well, we all know that in 2050 we have 9 billion people to feed. That means that we really need to get more efficient in our farming.
Crop rotation is relatively simple and cheap to introduce, making it easy to (re)introduce across the world. However, it is slow and inconsistent compared to the food labs.
The food labs require high investment and a steap learning curve. However, once we get past its weird, unfriendly or even scary looks, it’s innovations like the food labs that offer us efficiency we need to feed the future. Please invest there.
It is key to recognize that this split in directions can be seen across the board of all our sustainability initiatives: friendly & slow, or ‘cold' & effective.
I urge you to look beyond the optimization of our traditional ways, and take full advantage of our innovative capabilities. Break out of our romantic notions of how things should be done, and choose with our heads. Only then will we deliver solutions that make both environmental and economic sense.