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Choose your meal: Meatless burgers or connected cows

A profile on smart farms and the future of food.

The meat industry is squarely in the crosshairs of the disruptors.

Meatless burgers and plant-based meat producers have taken on an enormous industry whose production practices have been deemed unsustainable. But to say that meatless burgers are going to disrupt the hamburger industry would be a stretch. After all, veggie burgers have been around for a while and have had little-to-no impact on cattle farmers and the meat industry.

But this time around there’s a difference.

The non-meat meats are targeted at non-vegetarians — aka meat lovers. The disruptor’s goal is to produce a wide range of meat products without slaughter and in a healthy way that is good for people, animals and the planet.

Changing tastes

The Impossible Burger

Consumer behaviour has been changing, with younger generations and the socially conscious looking for responsible alternatives. Health, well-being, environmental responsibility and sustainability are as important to customers now as taste, cost and convenience.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by the year 2050, and feeding everyone in the world will be a tall order.

To satisfy that impending demand, growing trends like alternative sources, more efficient production techniques and plant-based meats will be required. Silicon Valley start-up, The Impossible Foods, is working towards that goal.

“Because we use 0 per cent cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95 per cent less land, 74 per cent less water, and creates 87 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions,” the company claims. That’s an impressive statement which will resonate with a lot of consumers.

Related: Does this robot chef make the perfect burger?

Shifting trends: Why faux meat is growing

Impossible burger made with plant-based meat

Currently, the plant-based “meat” market sits at around $5 billion — but it’s like a meatless iceberg of possibility. The share is estimated to become one-third of the entire meat market by the year 2050 as the population explodes — a sizeable shift.

Taking notice of the need and opportunity, notable business leaders Bill Gates and Richard Branson have even invested in the segment, giving it added credibility. Yet the livestock and crop farming industry’s challenges are unique, and farmers in the meatless revolution have their work cut out for them.

Worker shortages, the unpredictability of nature, property management challenges, input costs, supply chain issues, insurance uncertainties and other such issues have dogged the industry, making it harder for farmers to maintain and grow profitability.

Technology-based solutions will no doubt be needed to reduce input costs like labour and material, improve asset management and hit environmental goals. Already, automation has reduced human involvement in some of the most physically tasking aspects of farming.

However, the full impact of a connected agricultural ecosystem has eluded the sector. Technology deployments in farms have functioned as isolated point solutions addressing specific needs — like soil sensors — with limited centralized repository and processing capabilities for device-generated data.

Until now.

The ‘Internet of Cows’

Cows with wearable devices to track data

Welcome to Agriculture 4.0, a farming-specific variant of Industry 4.0.

Agriculture 4.0 — or “smart farming” — pairs technology with farming to improve operational efficiencies. Using autonomous tractors, UAVs (drones), satellite imaging, livestock wearables, soil moisture sensors and other robotics, farmers can remotely access relevant and timely data and take necessary action.

For example, Internet of Things (IoT) in the livestock industry, often referred to as the Internet of Cows, is the idea of optimizing livestock management using Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Connected cows wear Fitbit-like devices that enable the farmers to monitor and track their cattle for various predefined parameters.

Some of the functionality provided by such devices include identifying optimum time for artificial insemination, preventing and limiting cattle diseases, calving alerts, virtual fencing and other behavioural data critical to the management of a cattle farm.

The ability to identify and isolate outliers goes a long way in taking appropriate and timely action which helps improve the productivity and efficiency of the farm. The wearable devices themselves can transmit data wirelessly to centralized data storage systems for analysis, review and action.

A combination of IoT and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies incorporated into farming machines and wearable cattle tags allows farmers to use cloud-connected digital dashboards, mobile applications and smartphones to make data-driven decisions that are critical to the success of their businesses.

Ag data in the cloud

Agriculture 4.0

Cloud-based services that support agricultural environments have been gaining momentum. Huge volumes of data generated by connected devices and drones are best processed in the cloud and visualized locally at the farm.

Cloud services targeted at farmers include terrain map and crop visualization, farm vehicle management and business intelligence for performance benchmarking.

Related: How Farmers Edge is changing the world of ag tech from the Canadian Prairies.

For now, smaller companies are trying to be the disruptors. However, entrenched players may disrupt the disruptors, and smart farming will be key. Connected cows can help farmers attain their goal of generating profitable revenue in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.

After all, 20 years from now, some us may still want to eat real meat burgers….


Up Next: Value over price has led to success for this grocery chain.

Dax Nair

Dax is a Senior Marketing Professional with a background in the ICT Industry. Currently Dax works as a freelance blogger and writer focusing on Technology, Marketing, Social Media, and Travel. His contributions have appeared in, Cisco Canada, expertIP, Medium, The Writing Cooperative and other publications. Dax also maintains a personal blog titled Reboot Social, a blog series about dealing with the unexpected. Dax can be reached on Twitter: @daxnair.

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