How Our Food is Tied to Tech
Why are we modifying the genes of our food crops? It may be that we need to optimize food production to feed growing populations.
I pose two reasons for our exploration into biotechnologies in our food:
Reason 1: Monocropping Needs Optimization
Growing crops such as wheat and corn in mass produces large quantities but is unnatural and requires several interventions in order to work. Having a small garden with multiple species is relatively easy to manage and sustainable. One person can manage the soil quality by planting various species together, rotating the crop, or supplementing with homemade compost. Scaling this up to thousands of hectares however, is not so easy.
To cultivate the mass amount of wheat, corn, etc…. we have had to isolate one type of crop and find ways to grow it in mass. Some of these methods include:
- Using machinery for preparing the soil, planting, and harvesting
- Using processed fertilizers to supplement soil nutrients
- Adding pesticides and herbicides to reduce insect and weed intervention
- Genetically modifying plants to make them better suited for monocrops
Plants have not evolved to grow in massive fields on their own, so we have had to optimize how we manage them in this environment.
Reason 2: We Want More for Less
The two main methods for getting more food output with less energy and capital input are both driven by profits. The bottom line for everyone involved is more money.
- The Land Owner – looks for the biggest return on his land use.
- The Farmer – strives for making more money per hour work.
- The Consumer – wants more affordable food.
We want to produce more food per each farmer. Employing one farmer per hectare is more cost effective than 20 farmers per hectare (with the same food output). To enable less farmers to cultivate more land, we substitute manual labor with machinery. Add in tractors, automated watering systems, and crops that are heartier… and the effort of one farmer goes further and further.
We want each seed planted to yield more food. This allows us to get more calories out of fewer plants and a smaller plot of land. If you can double the yield of each ear of corn, without having to double the amount of land used or effort to harvest it… profits go up considerably.
There’s a clear economic incentive for all stakeholders to find tech solutions that support larger yields from crops and, therefore, higher profits.
Reason 3: Human Curiosity
I do believe there is a level of curiosity here. It is not just profits and fulfilling economic needs that drives our experimentation with biotech. Humans are innately curious beings and we will continue to push forward in all areas of tech, pushing the boundaries, just because we can and we are curious.
There is probably also an element of an unstoppable momentum caried by our society.
- Everyone wants to earn a living and earn respect from their peers
- For any institution to keep running it needs to grow and make progress
- University – needs to conduct more research and publish findings to stay relevant, attract talent, and keep tuition coming in from students.
- Business – must work a little harder than competitors to find an edge and continue to grow, otherwise they are overtaken and another business in their niche will take their business, preventing them from making a living.
- Individuals – feel the need to be better than their peers so they can improve their social status, so they must get a superior education and work at a higher paying job.
Unchecked, this natural momentum carries us on to an inevitable future.
A society that rushes toward industrialization with the only solution for feeding it (for now), is to mass produce food via methods supported by machinery and tech.