Is food production sustainable in the 21st century?

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Is food production sustainable in the 21st century? CLICK HERE TO INVESTIGATE THE IMPACT OF MODERN TECHNOLOGIES ON FOOD PRODUCTION. Continue to explore below, then build your competencies. 



smart food production

Animal health is important to both consumers and farmers. Some new technologies are helping to make animal health monitoring smarter. The use of computer systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) means that facilities are regulated, air quality is controlled, water sources are monitored and feed is accessible to animals.  

Connected devices communicate and cooperate with each other and with people in real-time so adjustments can be made to animal environments. 

emerging agriculture technologies

Air and soil sensors can provide a real time understanding of current farm, forest or body of water conditions. Data collected by sensors allows weather patterns to be tracked and better predictions made.

Livestock biometrics are collars with GPS, RFID and biometrics, that can automatically identify and communicate vital information about livestock in real time.

High-resolution crop sensors inform application equipment of the correct amounts of fertilization needed. Optical sensors or drones are able to identify crop health across the field, for example, by using infra-red light.

Geothermal energy and solar cells solar cells provide the energy needed on farms.

How can emerging technologies contribute to increased food production?


precision egg farming

The term “precision farming” is more frequently heard when it comes to the application of new technologies. Precision farming allows farmers to collect vital data about crop yields or soil quality, to name a few. The farmer can then analyze that information to view a large area as a series of small, manageable sections – one area’s soil may be lacking nutrients and the farmer can adjust accordingly.

In terms of egg farming, precision techniques could enable farmers to monitor important factors such as individual hen weight, feed and water consumption. But that’s only the beginning of their potential application. The sensors of the future might scan important health indicators like body temperature.”

Lambert, T. (February 16, 2018). Looking ahead to tomorrow’s agricultural advancements. Egg Farmers of Canada: Online. 

Egg laying hens are housed a variety of ways in Canada. Every housing system is designed to provide a clean environment, fresh food and water, and protection from predators. Different types of housing systems include conventional, furnished, free-run and free range. Additionally, every indoor housing system provides consistent temperature, humidity and lighting.

How can precision farming technologies improve efficiency in each type of housing system?


rise of the robots

Alberta dairy farmers take advantage of the increased efficiency provided by robotic milking. This investment into robotics does not necessarily change how many jobs there are on a dairy farm, but it does change the tasks that need to be completed. Cows need to be milked twice a day for 365 days of the year. Robotic milkers take over this task. When cows feel the need to empty their udders, they form a line in front of one of the milking robots. When a cow enters the small stall, a computer recognizes it by an electronic chip on its tag and can tell whether the cow has been milked within the past few hours.

Robotics are also able to efficiently track animal health to ensure that cows are able to produce quality milk, and allow farmers to focus on other areas of farming.



come into my parlour

Most of the dairy farms in Alberta have free stall barns and milking parlours, which are both sections of the barn where milking machines are kept.

There are many factors that go into choosing a parlour type; however in Alberta, for the most part, herringbone or parallel parlour designs are used. Some of the larger farms use rotary parlours. No matter what type of parlour is chosen, each system records the data on each cow, like how much she produces. 

Before milking, the cow’s identification is checked and the udder, where milk is produced by the cow, is gently massaged so the milk flows into the teats, or nipples. The teats are cleaned and sanitized before the milking machine is attached.

Milking each cow takes about five minutes. Milking machines have automatic sensors that work much like the suckling of a baby calf. The sensors remove the machine when the milk flow has stopped.

In a parallel milking parlour, cows are lined up in straight rows. The farmer moves from one cow to the next to attach the milking machine and milk the cow.



In a herringbone milking parlour, cows are lined up at an angle. This makes it easier for the milking machine to be attached and the cows to be milked.



A carousel milking parlour moves the cows around so that the farmer can stay in one place to attach the milking machine.

Illustrations courtesy of Dairy Max



chicken technologies

One of the biggest shifts in chicken farming is the increasing use of highly computerized and automated systems. Before a chicken farmer heads out for chores, he or she is up and at the computer in the morning to check “vitals” in the barn, and monitoring to ensure that the wheat-based feed and water are distributed properly, barn temperatures are appropriate and carbon dioxide levels not abnormally high.


Consider the research below on precision feeding from the University of Alberta. How does this technology increase food production efficiency?



The world’s first system that instantly measures a chicken’s weight and its exact feed need is returning information about cage-free chickens at a level of detail never before achieved.

The Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System was designed by poultry researcher Martin Zuidhof, who, since 2013, has run it through four pilot tests and four full experiments at the Edmonton Research Station on the University of Alberta South Campus.

Over- and underweight chickens produce fewer chicks, said Zuidhof, so feed restriction to achieve a predetermined target body weight has become standard industry practice for feeding broiler breeders.

“However, competition for feed results in poor flock uniformity,” he said.

His precision feeding system allows each free-run bird to enter a feeding station and perch on a platform that weighs the chicken. Using a radio frequency identifier on the bird’s wing, the system recalls such information as the bird’s target weight and when it last fed. If a bird weighs less than its target weight, it dispenses a small amount of feed. If there’s no need for the bird to eat at that moment, the chicken is gently removed from the station.

Metella, H. (2017). Precision feeding chickens is a breakthrough technology. University of Alberta: Online. 

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