Technology has revolutionized food production and agriculture to such an extent that our modern food system would be virtually unrecognizable to a subsistence farmer from before the agricultural revolution. This technology meant that humans no longer had to spend most of their time and energy simply trying to grow and gather enough food to eat. It freed up humanity to invest countless other things and develop even more advanced technology in other areas, too.
But agriculture technology has not been without downsides. There have been undeniable environmental and social costs to advances in ag tech as well. As we continue to develop and refine the technology we use, we are making great strides in addressing some of these negative impacts.
Cross-sector collaboration is a great way to continue to improve how technology works in agriculture and more broadly. An ag tech conference that prioritizes this cross-industry sharing—like the Rally Innovation Conference—is the perfect place to do so.
Just like a good cross-sector conference, this article will explore some of the positive and negative impacts of agricultural technology on our modern food system, as well as addressing topics like:
- What are the negative effects of agricultural technology on farmers, the environment, and our food system?
- How the technology impact on agriculture can be improved going forward.
What Are 3 Negative Impacts of Agricultural Technology?
Many of the negative impacts of technology in agriculture can be hard to tease apart into neat and tidy bullet points, since most of them overlap and play off of each other. But the three main negative impacts we’re going to explore here are climate change, food safety, and rural society changes.
1. Climate Change and the Use of Technology in Agriculture
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the USA come from agriculture, and nearly all of this is a result of new technology that has been introduced in the last 50 years. The use of tractors and other machinery led to larger farms, more use of fossil fuels, and animal meat production at a larger scale; all of which created more greenhouse gasses—like carbon dioxide and methane.
Additionally, the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers introduced new chemicals into the environment in huge amounts. These degraded ecosystems and prevented the Earth from naturally mitigating the effects of climate change.
However, as the true costs of these impacts are being recognized, technology is working on improved solutions to deal with them. New technological advances in sensors mean farmers can apply water and fertilizer in a much more targeted way, so they only need to use tiny amounts in the exact areas needed. And the use of renewable energy sources and electric machinery decrease the reliance of farming on fossil fuels.
2. Food Safety and the Impact of Technology on Agriculture and Food Production
The mechanization and standardization that technology brought to agriculture had many benefits, like improved crop yields and fewer labor hours needed to feed the world. But it also created conditions where foodborne diseases and cross contamination were a real concern. Food is now traveling longer distances, going through more processes, and being touched by more hands—all leading to more chances for contamination. For example, a disease like E. coli or Listeria would have been very localized before modern agricultural technology existed. But now these diseases cause food recalls in everything from romaine lettuce to cantaloupe nation-wide.
But as these problems become better understood, technology is now starting to address them in new ways. Farmers can now label and track specific batches of crops more easily now, and technology like block chain makes it much easier to know exactly where different ingredients are coming from.
3. Impact of Technology on Agriculture in Rural Society
One of the most noticeable changes of technology in agriculture is how much the life of a farmer has changed over the last few generations. Automation and the increased abilities of machines means far fewer people are needed to run a farm. Farming communities and an entire way of life in rural society has all but disappeared in many places.
In fact, according to Time, between 1948 and 2015, more than four million farms disappeared from the rural landscape in the USA. As the article points out, this has especially devastating effects on communities. “Farmers aren’t the only workers in the American economy being displaced by technology, but when they lose their jobs, they are also ejected from their homes and the land that’s been in their family for generations.”
But technological advances, installation, and maintenance also require skilled workers. Rural areas can be a great place to invest in the education of knowledge workers with these skills. Communities that were built on agriculture have a valuable understanding of the industry and can hold the key to unlocking the next great agricultural discovery.
What Are Some Positive and Negative Impacts of Agriculture? Learn More at Rally!
No industry is perfect, and technology in agriculture has certainly caused its share of problems. But ag tech is showing it can also be part of the solution. Cross-sector collaboration between food production, software development, healthcare, entrepreneurs, and other tech fields helps everyone learn and grow. Learn more about the largest global cross-sector innovation conference, Rally, by taking a look at our agenda or registering today!