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ESG investing is here to stay. For more and more investors, it’s increasingly important that investments not only produce returns, but have social and environmental benefits as well. Fortunately, over the past decade, sustainable investments have become much more mainstream, and investors now have access to a wide range of ESG investments that also produce attractive returns. Thanks in part to the rise of technology-enabled investment platforms, investors no longer need to choose between meeting their financial goals and promoting positive change.
Investors Are Hungry for Impact InvestingWhile investors 10 or 20 years ago might have been focused primarily on returns, investors today are seeking to make an impact in the world through their assets. In 2018, Morgan Stanley found that 84 percent of individual investors were interested in using their dollars to effect change. This growth has been largely driven by an increased understanding amongst investors that ESG investing can drive competitive risk-adjusted returns, just as with any other investment, while also driving a positive impact. In fact, research from Morningstar on sustainable funds counters claims that ESG investment comes at the expense of performance. Even more striking, the majority of sustainability-focused funds actually outperformed the S&P.
As the impact investing space continues to mature, investors have many more opportunities to simultaneously have a positive social or environmental impact and achieve their long-term financial goals. Today, sustainable investing assets are valued at over $30 billion globally, according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment and Global Sustainable Investing Alliance. Some of these opportunities have arisen in the alternative investment space, where debt and equity investments can be used to create positive impact.
Technology Platforms Increase Access to High-Quality InvestmentsMany alternative investments, including venture capital, private equity, real estate and lesser-known assets such as farmland, have long been out of reach for individual investors. Several barriers stood in the way, including high minimum investment thresholds and a lack of transparency around market opportunities. However, in the past few years, the rise of technology-enabled investment marketplaces, ranging from EquityMultiple (real estate) and Vinovest (wine) to Coinbase (crypto), are making alternative investments more accessible than ever.
Farmland is the latest asset class to be revolutionized by the fintech wave. Whether it’s through REITs, like Farmland Partners, commodity ETFs or crowdfunding platforms, farmland sticks out among investors, both in terms of its attractive return on investment and its potential to increase the sustainability of the agriculture sector.
U.S. farmland returns are comparable to returns achieved by the stock market. Between 1992 and 2020, farmland returned an average of 11 percent per year while the stock market returned an average of 8 percent.
Farmland is also an extremely low-volatility asset. As can be seen in the chart above, the volatility of stocks, publicly traded REITs and gold is between 14.9 percent to 18.3 percent. In comparison, the volatility of farmland is only 6.9 percent, making farmland comparable to bonds. The combination of high average annual returns and low volatility means that on a risk-adjusted basis, farmland provides significantly better returns than public equities.
Farmland has several other attractive qualities as well. It is uncorrelated with most major asset classes, meaning that events that impact the performance of stocks and bonds do not have the same impact on the performance of farmland. For this reason, adding farmland to your portfolio increases diversification, which is important for building long-term wealth, and reduces overall portfolio volatility.
Like gold, farmland acts as a store of value in turbulent economic times. It performs well in a recession and can be used as an effective hedge against inflation. Unlike gold, however, farmland offers investors two sources of income: price appreciation when the underlying asset is sold and passive income from periodic rental and crop payments. This means that farmland investing diversifies your income streams in addition to your investment portfolio.
Another difference that sets farmland apart from gold is that its value is underpinned by its fundamental role in the global economy and its scarcity. The population continues to grow and people continue to need to eat, but high quality farmland isn’t created every day. In fact, the amount of arable land is declining due to a changing climate and rapid development, meaning suitable farmland will only become more valuable.
Portfolios With a PurposeThis is where sustainable farmland comes into play. In order to continue to feed the growing global population for years to come, sustainable farms are better equipped to take on the task. In fact, research shows that with proper management and by incorporating high-tech and sustainable approaches, farms could very well be able to satisfy the needs of the growing population.
These approaches include water conservation, emphasizing organic and nature-based farming methods and leveraging agronomic innovations to make farms more efficient. However, these updates and transitions are often costly, presenting a barrier for most.
Enter farmland investing. By channeling outside capital to farming, investors are driving agriculture toward sustainability, and ensuring abundant food supply, on a massive scale.
Plus, sustainably managing farmland will also reinforce the land’s value. Farms with healthy soils, ample water and efficient infrastructure are worth more, leading to stronger returns in the long-term.
Farmland: Where Income and Impact Go Hand-In-Hand For many years, impact investors were forced to choose between returns and their ESG goals. Fortunately, with the rise of technology-powered investment platforms, this is no longer the case. With access to farmland as an investment, investors are channeling the capital needed to preserve land and support future communities, while sharing in the rewards with cash income, capital appreciation and a balanced portfolio.
Plants have microscopically small pores on the surface of their leaves called stomata. These help plants regulate the influx of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. They also prevent the loss of too much water and withering away during drought.
The stomatal pores are surrounded by two guard cells. If the internal pressure of these cells drops, they slacken and close the pore. If the pressure rises, the cells move apart and the pore widens.
The stomatal movements are thus regulated by the guard cells. Signaling pathways in these cells are so complex that it is difficult for humans to intervene with them directly. However, researchers of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, nevertheless found a way to control the movements of stomata remotely—using light pulses.
Light-sensitive protein from algae used
The researchers succeeded in doing this by introducing a light-sensitive switch into the guard cells of tobacco plants. This technology was adopted from optogenetics. It has been successfully exploited in animal cells, but the application in plant cells it is still in its infancy.
The team led by JMU biophysicist and guard cell expert Professor Rainer Hedrich describes their approach in the journal Science Advances. JMU researchers Shouguang Huang (first author), Kai Konrad and Rob Roelfsema were significantly involved.
The group used a light-sensitive protein from the alga Guillardia theta as a light switch, namely the anion channel ACR1 from the group of channelrhodopsins. In response to light pulses, the switch ensures that chloride flows out of the guard cells and potassium follows. The guard cells lose internal pressure, slacken and the pore closes within 15 minutes. "The light pulse is like a remote control for the movement of the stomata," says Hedrich.
Anion channel hypothesis confirmed
"By exposing ACR1 to light, we have bridged the cell's own signaling chain, thus proving the hypothesis that the opening of anion channels is essential and sufficient for stomatal closure," Hedrich says. The exposure to light had almost completely prevented the transpiration of the plants.
With this knowledge, it is now possible to cultivate plants with an increased number of anion channels in the guard cells. Plants equipped in this way should close their stomata more quickly in response to approaching heat waves and thus be better able to cope with periods of drought.
"Plant anion channels are activated during stress; this process is dependent on calcium. In a follow up optogenetics project, we want to use calcium-conducting channelrhodopsins to specifically allow calcium to flow into the guard cells cell through exposure to light and to understand the mechanism of anion channel activation in detail," Hedrich says.
Basic scientific research can also benefit from the results from Würzburg: "Our new optogenetic tool has enormous potential for research," says the JMU professor. "With it, we can gain new insights into how plants regulate their water consumption and how carbon dioxide fixation and stomatal movements are coupled."
Spring wheat could see some of its lowest wheat yields in decades due to widespread drought and heat.
Photo: Chris McGrath (Getty Images) Wheat farmers across the country are facing lower yields as 98% of the country’s wheat crop is in areas experiencing drought.
In the Northern Plains, the Department of Agriculture said Monday that farmers were projected to harvest their smallest crop of spring wheat—crops planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn—in 33 years. This week, the North Dakota Wheat Commission noted in its weekly update that some farmers saw rain and lowered temperatures following last week’s searing heat, but conditions are still worrisome.
The region is hardly alone; the USDA also said this week that 68% of the Pacific Northwest’s spring wheat was in “poor or very poor” conditions. At this time last, only 6% of the region’s wheat crop was in this state. All told, the USDA found that 98% of the U.S. wheat crop is growing in areas hit by drought.
“Producers in the driest areas continue to make choices on abandoning or haying their wheat crop depending on yield potential,” the North Dakota Wheat Commission notes. “Temperatures for this week will turn hot again, causing concerns for wheat that is in the grain filling stages.”
June is when the wheat planted in the spring flowers, and is “a critical period” for the crop, said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an associate professor of applied economics at Cornell. “It’s getting hit very hard right now, the conditions being reported are pretty bad.”
Ortiz-Bobea explained that a dry month when wheat is in this crucial stage can really damage the overall yield of the crop, regardless of what the weather looks like afterward. “Each little kernel is like a womb—you need them to be viable,” he said. “During the period of time where the harvested part of the plant is irreversibly set, if you have a stress, like heat or drought, the instinct of the plant is to cut losses and focus on fewer things. Many flowers abort, and the plant says, ‘well, I’m just going to save these guys,’ so the yield goes down, even if conditions afterward are ideal.”
Wheat in the U.S., Ortiz-Bobea said, is also mostly rainfed. Farmers don’t irrigate wheat fields, which lowers productions costs and doesn’t tap into scarce water resources.
“A lot of irrigation in the West is for very high-value crops—almonds, fruit trees, vegetables—they require a lot of water, but you can sell for a very high price,” he said. But this lack of irrigation infrastructure can be devastating for farmers when drought coupled with record-setting heat hits at such a crucial growing time. The Pacific Northwest saw ground temperatures rise to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius) during the heat wave worsened by climate change earlier this month, with the worst readings in the parts of Washington and Oregon where wheat is grown.
“When you get a heatwave like this, when the crop is vulnerable, there’s not much farmers can do,” Ortiz-Bobea said.
The entire state of Oregon and Idaho are in drought as is much of Washington, including the eastern part of the state where wheat largely grows. Farmers are scrambling to handle the one-two punch of drought and a searing heatwave.
“The general mood among farmers in my area is as dire as I’ve ever seen it,” farmer Cordell Kress, who farms wheat and canola in Idaho, told Reuters. “Something about a drought like this just wears on you. You see your blood, sweat, and tears just slowly wither away and die.”
The damage to the Northwest wheat crop isn’t just a concern to farmers, but anyone who likes cakes, pastries, biscuits, ramen noodles, and a lot of other delicate, tasty stuff. The varieties of wheat hit hard by the drought and the heat in those states are what are known as soft white, and it’s the only place in the U.S. that grows this kind of wheat. Soft white wheat is good for pastries and the like because of its low protein content, which makes it less stretchy than traditional flour. But wheat kernels in the Pacific Northwest are shriveling due to the heat and the drought, upping their protein content—and meaning that a lot of the crop that will be harvested won’t be suitable for the soft wheat market.
While Ortiz-Bobea said that bulk wheat purchasers are “scrambling” trying to figure out markets with less wheat supply, for anyone worrying about flour flying off the shelves, you can rest easy. “For the consumer, at the end of the day, they might not even notice it,” he said.
This summer’s wheat woes are a look into how crop yields may start to sputter more regularly, even as agriculture makes technological advancements. Ortiz-Bobea coauthored a study published in Nature Climate Change earlier this year that found that climate change has already made global farming productivity 21% lower than it could have been—the equivalent of making no improvements in productivity for seven years.
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“This is going to become more frequent,” he said. “Climate change is already slowing down productivity at a global scale. It’s already happening but we don’t see it because this is a bad year compared to the previous one. We’re comparing today versus yesterday because we’re not thinking about what could have been.”
Farm robots are the future; let's start preparing now, researcher argues
This illustration shows the utopian farm robot scenario. Credit: Natalis Lorenz
No longer science fiction, farm robots are already here—and they have created two possible extremes for the future of agriculture and its impacts on the environment, argues agricultural economist Thomas Daum in a Science & Society article published July 13 in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. One is a utopia, where fleets of small, intelligent robots farm in harmony with nature to produce diverse, organic crops. The other is a dystopia in which large, tractor-like robots subdue the landscape through heavy machinery and artificial chemicals.
He describes the utopian scenario as a mosaic of rich, green fields, streams, and wild flora and fauna, where fleets of small robots fueled by sustainable energy flit around the fields, their whirrs intermixed with insect chirps and birdsong. "It's like a Garden of Eden," says Daum, a research fellow at the University of Hohenheim in Germany studying agricultural development strategies. "Small robots could help conserve biodiversity and combat climate change in ways that were not possible before."
He suggests that the utopian scenario, which is too labor intensive for conventional farming but is possible with robots working 24/7, would likely benefit the environment in numerous ways. Plants would be more diverse and the soil would be more nutrient-rich. Thanks to micro-spraying of biopesticides and laser weed removal, nearby water, insect populations, and soil bacteria would also be healthier. Organic crops yields—which are currently often lower than conventional crop yields—would be higher, and farming's environmental footprint would be significantly reduced.
However, he says a parallel future with negative environmental ramifications is just as possible. In that scenario, he says, big but technologically-crude robots would bulldoze the natural landscape, and a few monoculture crops would dominate the terrain. Large fences would isolate people, farms, and wildlife from each other. With humans removed from the farms, agrochemicals and pesticides may be more broadly used. The ultimate objectives would be structure and control: qualities that these simpler robots thrive in but would likely have harmful effects on the environment.
While he notes it's not likely that the future will be confined to either a pure utopia or a pure dystopia, by creating these two scenarios, Daum hopes to spark conversation at what he sees as a crossroads moment in time. "The utopia and dystopia are both possible from a technological perspective. But without the right guardrails on policy, we may end up in the dystopia without wanting to if we don't discuss this now," Daum says.
This illustration shows the dystopian farm robot scenario. Credit: Natalis Lorenz
But these impacts aren't limited to just the environment—normal people are affected too. "Robot farming may also concretely affect you as a consumer," he says. "In the utopia, we aren't just producing cereal crops—we have lots of fruits and vegetables whose relative prices would fall, so a healthier diet would become more affordable."
The small robots described in Daum's utopian scenario would also be more feasible for small-scale farmers, who could more easily afford them or share them through Uber-like services. In contrast, he argues that the family farm is less likely to survive in the dystopian scenario: only major manufacturers, he says, would be able to manage the vast swaths of land and high costs of large machinery.
In parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, where there are currently many smaller farms, there are clear benefits of making a conscious effort to achieve the utopian scenario. The situation is more challenging in countries like the United States, Russia, or Brazil, which historically have been dominated by large-scale farms producing high-volume, low-value grains and oilseeds. There, small robots—which perform less efficiently on energy-intensive tasks like threshing corn—may not always be the most economically effective option.
"While it is true that the preconditions for small robots are more challenging in these areas," he says, "even with large robots—or a mix between small and large—we can take steps towards the utopia with practices such as intercropping, having hedgerows, agroforestry, and moving away from larger farms to smaller plots of land owned by large farmers. Some such practices may even pay off for farmers once robots can do the job, as previously uneconomic practices become profitable."
To do so requires action now, Daum says. While some aspects of the utopian scenario like laser weeding have already been developed and are ready to be distributed widely, funding must go toward other aspects of machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to develop robots intelligent enough to adapt to complex, unstructured farm systems. Policy changes are also a necessity and could take the form of subsidies, regulations, or taxes. "In the European Union, for example, farmers get money when they do certain landscape services like having a lot of trees or rivers on their farms," he says.
While it may seem like the dystopia scenario is more likely, it's not the only path forward. "I think the utopia is achievable," Daum says. "It won't be as easy as the dystopia, but it's very much possible."
The move follows an executive order issued last week by the White House urging the agency to secure consumers' rights to fix their own gadgets.
DURING AN OPEN commission meeting Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to enforce laws around the Right to Repair, thereby ensuring that US consumers will be able to repair their own electronic and automotive devices.
The FTC’s endorsement of the rules is not a surprise outcome; the issue of Right to Repair has been a remarkably bipartisan one, and the FTC itself issued a lengthy report in May that blasted manufacturers for restricting repairs. But the 5 to 0 vote signals the commission’s commitment to enforce both federal antitrust laws and a key law around consumer warranties—the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act—when it comes to personal device repairs.
The vote, which was led by new FTC chair and known tech critic Lina Khan, also comes 12 days after President Joe Biden signed a broad executive order aimed at promoting competition in the US economy. The order addressed a wide range of industries, from banks to airlines to tech companies. But a portion of it encouraged the FTC, which operates as an independent agency, to create new rules that would prevent companies from restricting repair options for consumers.
“When you buy an expensive product, whether it's a half-a-million-dollar tractor or a thousand-dollar phone, you are in a very real sense under the power of the manufacturer,” says Tim Wu, special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy within the National Economic Council. “And when they have repair specifications that are unreasonable, there's not a lot you can do."
Wu added that Right to Repair has become a "visceral example" of the enormous imbalance between workers, consumers, small businesses, and larger entities.
Fixed Position The FTC vote is another win for the Right to Repair movement in the US, which has been led by advocacy groups like the US Public Interest Research Group, as well as private companies like iFixit, the California-based company that sells gadget repair kits and publishes repair manuals for DIY tinkerers. Proponents of the Right to Repair have long argued that consumers should have access to the tools, parts, documentation, and software required to fix the products they own, whether it’s a smartphone or a tractor.
These groups are also quick to call out instances in which large manufacturers block or limit options for independent product repairs, or force consumers to go directly back to a manufacturer, who then charges a premium for a fix. And it’s not just a matter of fixing a broken glass back on a smartphone, or repairing an impossibly small smartwatch: During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, medical device engineers began speaking out on the dangers of not having access to repair tools for critical devices, such as ventilators, during times of crisis.
As more products are designed with internet connectivity—from smartphones to refrigerators to cars—the issue of repair rights has become increasingly complicated. Repair advocates say consumers should have access to all of the data that their personal devices collect, and that independent repair shops should have access to the same software diagnostic tools that “authorized” shops have.
“I urge the FTC to use its rulemaking authority to reinforce basic consumer and private property rights, and to update it for the digital age, as manufacturers seek to turn hundreds of millions of owners of technology into tenants of their own property,” said Paul Roberts, the founder of Securepairs.org, during a public comments section of today’s FTC meeting. “A digital Right to Repair is a vital tool that will extend the life of electronic devices.”
But some large manufacturers oppose this notion, arguing that it will make products less secure and could expose consumers to safety risks. John Deere, one of the world’s leading tractor makers, has issued statements saying that it “does not support the right to modify embedded software due to risks associated with the safe operation of the equipment, emissions compliance, and engine performance.”
During the comments portion of the FTC hearing today, a representative for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute claimed that “Right to Repair legislation fails to consider consumer safety and environmental protection with respect to our industry’s products … as an example, it would allow for modification of and tampering with safety controls of powered lawn mower blades required under law by the CPSC, as well as emissions controls required under law by the EPA.”
Carl Holshouser, senior vice president at TechNet, a trade group that has represented companies like Microsoft and Apple, wrote in an emailed statement to WIRED that “the FTC’s decision to upend an effective and secure system for consumers to repair products that they rely on for their health, safety, and well-being, including phones, computers, fire alarms, medical devices, and home security systems, will have far-reaching, permanent impacts on technology and cybersecurity.”
And ahead of the vote today, the Consumer Technology Association—which hosts the annual CES tech bonanza in Las Vegas— sent a letter to the FTC commissioners urging collaboration, rather than an “extensive rulemaking process,” citing intellectual property rights as a thorny issue at the heart of Right to Repair.
It’s worth noting, however, that in the FTC’s report in May, which was the culmination of data gathered after the commission hosted a “Nixing the Fix” panel in 2019, the FTC said there was “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.” The report detailed a number of instances in which manufacturers may have overstated the risks of thermal runaway (read: batteries catching fire) or personal data breaches tied to device repairs.
For now, the FTC’s policy statement is a giant underscore for existing laws, while dozens of states consider Right to Repair bills at the state level. The commission said today it would investigate repair restrictions both as potential violations of antitrust laws and from a consumer protection angle. The FTC is also encouraging the public to report warranty abuse—as defined by the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act of 1975, which prohibits manufacturers from telling consumers that a warranty is voided if the product has been altered or tampered with by someone other than the original manufacturer.
Jessa Jones, a repair expert who runs a business in upstate New York called iPad Rehab, and who claims to have fixed over 40,000 iPhones, urged the FTC to take the enforcement of the existing regulations seriously.
“Despite the anti-tying statement within the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, there’s still rampant disregard of the FTC rules,” Jones said during the public comments portion of the meeting. “Consumers and manufacturers alike still believe that you can void a warranty simply by opening a device.”
One Lost Methyl Group = Huge Amounts of Food Production By Derek Lowe 28 July, 2021
I don’t do a lot of posts on plant biochemistry here, but this news is pretty notable, and it illustrates several points that apply across other fields as well. This new paper has as its background the role of a particular methyl group in the structure of RNA molecules: N6-methyladenosine. The presence or absence of this methyl group is a very important epigenetic marker across pretty much all eukaryotic life – there are quite a few of these, and their activities are wide-ranging. These modifications of RNA can affect the stability of a given RNA species, how mRNAs get translated into protein and under what conditions, and more. Meanwhile, similar markers on DNA residues affect winding around histones (histone proteins have their own marker systems as well), transcription into RNA, and other processes. In plants, there’s a substantial amount of work showing the m6A signaling network is involved in development from seeds, flowering, resistance to viral infection, and a long list of growth and physiology effects.
Humans have an enzyme called FTO that demethylates N6-methyladenosine (and some other substrates as well) through oxidation. It’s part of a large family of enzymes that do this sort of thing using an iron atom in their active sites (although not as a heme group), along with molecular oxygen. Plants, though, don’t have an FTO homolog – they have some other enzymes that can demethylate this substrate, but not like FTO itself. So the team behind this paper wanted to see what would happen if you engineered the FTO enzyme into plants – they reasoned that it was unlikely to fit into the existing cellular regulatory networks (as a foreign protein more or less dropped in from the sky), and its robust demethylation activity would surely have some interesting effects.
It sure did. In rice and potatoes, the crop yields went up by about 50% in field trials. Grain size in the rice plants didn’t change, nor did the height of the plants – they just produced a lot more rice grains in general. Shown at right are the potatoes from 20 control plants and 20 FTO-modified ones – in this case, the total number of potatoes doesn’t seem to go up, but the overall potato weight certainly does. Neither the rice nor the potatoes showed changes in their starch, protein, total carbohydrate, or vitamin C content.
How does this happen? The plants’ root systems were deeper and more extensive, and photosynthetic efficiency went up by a startling 36%. Transpiration from the leaves was up 78%, but at the same time, the plants of both species showed significantly higher drought tolerance. These are highly desirable traits, and it’s worth noting that a lot of this extra biomass is coming from increased usage of carbon dioxide from the air. As the paper notes, this both demonstrates an extremely useful effect right off the bat, and also points to many lines of investigation about how RNA demethylation affects all these plant growth pathways (indeed, the latter part of the paper shows a number of preliminary work to try to untangle all this, but there’s going to be a lot more work needed on that).
Agriculture, national and international regulations, and customer attitudes being what they are, you’re not going to see FTO-modified plants showing up in the grocery stores any time soon. But this is a really promising area to investigate: the addition to plants of a protein that we all already have in our bodies might increase agricultural productivity immensely. Increased yields are key to not plowing up more of the planet’s arable (and potentially arable) land to grow food on, so this could also be good news for preservation of wild habitats in general. It will be fascinating to see what happens when FTO is introduced into other food crops (corn, wheat, soybeans, cassava, oil seeds and more), or whether this could be used to make some chemical feedstock ideas more feasible. Would FTO-modified trees produce wood more quickly and in greater amounts? Could study of the enhanced photosynthesis pathways lead to modified species that would be useful in carbon dioxide uptake? This is quite a result, and I hope it leads to many useful consequences.
AgriFORCE is Disrupting Traditional Farming with its Eco-Friendly Growing Process
Hydroponic farming used to be an answer to a problem few were aware of. Before global warming, growing food demands, care for the environment and water use became hot-button topics around the globe, most were utterly content with traditional farming methods. AgriFORCE Growing Systems Ltd. (NASDAQ: AGRI) has been ahead of the curve and continues to set the pace in nontraditional farming alternatives.
Vancouver, British Columbia-based AgriFORCE has dedicated its extensive intellectual property to transforming how the future of agriculture may look through its automated growing system and proprietary facility design. And there couldn’t be a better time than now to develop a modern growing process that answers a lot of the world’s most significant environmental concerns surrounding traditional farming.
By the year 2050, food production must increase by about 70% to meet the caloric needs of a global population of 9.8 billion people. Almost 7 out of 10 of those people live in urban areas. To meet today’s demand alone, we are already pushing the limits of environmental excess.
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The amount of resources used by traditional agriculture is astronomical. Globally, 70% of water usage now goes toward agricultural production, primarily because of unsustainable irrigation practices. And if we continue on the current path, the land needed to meet the food demands would be double the size of India. That’s according to a report published by Princeton University, which claims that many essential ecosystems are at risk of being destroyed — especially those key to maintaining an already disturbed balance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
AgriFORCE has introduced a fourth way of growing which combines the benefits of the natural environment in a controlled environment. The company’s precision growth method is designed to leverage the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The company has built its work on the premise that the human race faces an unprecedented era of challenges relating to agriculture, from broken food supply chains and pollution to pesticides, soil and water contamination, extreme weather and unsustainable environmental practices. AgriFORCE has focused solely on disrupting the broken legacy agricultural system by reimagining not just what could be, but what must be with little time to waste.
Growers are now aware that crops can be cultivated indoors and hydroponically anywhere and in any season, with weather conditions playing no effect on the process. Hydroponic farming also has the ultimate potential to provide fresh, local food for areas with extreme droughts and low soil quality.
AgriFORCE has devised an intricate, scientific and high-success-oriented approach to produce larger crop yields using its precision growth method. The process is designed to use fewer resources and outperform traditional growing methods, using a specific combination of new and traditional techniques required to attain this efficiency.
It’s what hits your plate at dinner that’s the proof of the system, and AgriFORCE says it continues to leverage its IP to design an efficient process to deliver more nutritious and sustainable food. For more information on AgriFORCE, go to www.agriforcegs.com.
Plant-Based Fish Is Rattling the Multibillion-Dollar Seafood Industry
Beyond and Impossible showed the potential for plant-based proteins. Now tomatoes are coming for tuna.
Mimic Seafood’s Tunato nigiri.
Source: Mimic Seafood
When a tuna marketing executive took a bite of the dehydrated tomato seasoned with olive oil, algae extract, spices, and soy sauce early last year, he was shook. “This is going to be a problem for us,” he said. At least that’s how Ida Speyer, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mimic Seafood, recalls it, designating it the highest praise she could’ve imagined for the delicate slice of tuna that—despite what the marketing executive’s taste buds indicated—contained no tuna at all.
The Madrid-based startup’s Tunato product, fabricated from a specialty tomato variety grown in southern Spain that resembles sliced sushi-grade tuna in shape and size, is part of a growing class of food innovations fighting for the last empty shelf in the booming plant-based protein market: seafood.
Faux fish, which Speyer concedes “maybe 5 or 10 years ago would have seemed too far out, too different, or only something for vegans,” is just a tiny fraction of the alternative protein market, dwarfed by the more mature faux meat and alt-dairy sectors. U.S. sales of plant-based seafood grew 23%, to $12 million, in 2020, compared with a traditional seafood market worth tens of billions of dollars, according to the Good Food Institute, an international nonprofit pushing for more sustainable proteins. But the sector is evolving quickly. Investment in U.S. plant-based seafood hit $70 million in the first half of 2021, as much as in the past two years combined.
Fake Fish Taste Test: Plant-Based Seafood
It’s still a minnow compared with the country’s plant-based meat market, which has ballooned to about $1.4 billion in 2020 sales as companies roll out alternative chicken nuggets and pork sausages to join the faux ground beef and burgers already in household fridges. Concerns about red-meat consumption, antibiotics in livestock, and climate change have enticed more global shoppers to go meatless, at least once a week, but fish, with its heart-healthy reputation, doesn’t have the bad rap. Still, fears of overfishing, heavy-metal consumption, and microplastics, fueled by documentaries such as Netflix’s controversial Seaspiracy, are priming the switch. The potential market could be huge: Beyond vegans and flexitarians, faux fish might also be a welcome addition to, say, a pregnant woman avoiding high-mercury swordfish or a consumer with a shellfish allergy. And big corporations have taken notice.
Meat giant Tyson Foods Inc.’s venture arm bought a minority stake in New Wave Foods, a maker of plant-based shrimp, in 2019, almost two years before Tyson released its first vegan hamburger. In Thailand in March, Thai Union Group PCL, which owns the Chicken of the Sea brand, introduced its plant-based line OMG Meat, including crab cakes and fish burgers, with plans for a vegan shrimp later this year. Nestle SA’s nonfish tuna is available in parts of Europe, while Swedish retailer Ikea sells vegan caviar, derived from kelp seaweed.
Finggerino tomatoes used to make Mimic Seafood’s meatless tuna. Source: Mimic Seafood Thai Union, whose familiar tinned fish brands also include John West and King Oscar, began mulling plant-based products about three years ago to get ahead of concerns around sustainability. It rolled out its first vegan product—a flaked faux tuna made of soy, wheat, and pea protein that can be used in a traditional mayonnaise-based salad—in 2020. “We have the customers in our hands,” says Tunyawat Kasemsuwan, director of the company’s global innovation center, referring to the name recognition its brands already have. Thai Union is mainly targeting flexitarians, whose share in the population has been growing, and young consumers. “Gen Z will be the first movers, but there will be a ripple effect” on traditional seafood consumers, who tend to be older primarily because seafood is a premium-priced product, he says.
Most of the companies entering the nascent sector don’t have Thai Union’s global research and development, manufacturing, and distribution might, but the cottage industry is awash with experimentation. Breaded and fried products have had some of the quickest uptake. They include the Good Catch faux fish fillets and crab cakes recently added to the menu at five Long John Silver’s locations in California and Georgia. Gathered Foods, maker of Good Catch, says it’s too soon to comment on the trial, but “if you create that availability,” says co-founder Chris Kerr, “consumers will show up.”
Breaded products are also proliferating in the faux meat market, with Impossible Foods Inc. and Beyond Meat Inc. introducing plant-based chicken products this year. It’s simpler to mimic ground and spiced meats like patties and sausages instead of whole-muscle cuts, including chicken breast and filet mignon. The faux fish industry is discovering the same. “It’s much easier to re-create a dense, juicy beef burger than a flaky, delicate fillet of fish,” says Jen Lamy, Boston-based senior manager of the Good Food Institute’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative.
*Subcategory of plant-based meat.
Data: Good Food Institute, Spins
French foodmaker Odontella SAS sells a plant-based smoked salmon made from algae and pea protein in specialty supermarkets across Europe. The product is a long way from its origins as a 2007 experiment in co-founder Alain Guillou’s kitchen. It tastes very close to the real thing, though the price is heftier.
The key to price parity will be scaling up production and tapping more markets. “When that happens, you know the mega tipping point is here,” says David Yeung, founder and CEO of OmniFoods, a Hong Kong-based foodtech known for its vegan pork that’s been expanding into seafood. “I truly believe this is a matter of two to three years.”
Because seafood is rich in vitamins and minerals, which already makes it a healthy protein alternative to meat, vegan startups have to ensure the same nutrients end up in their plant-based replicas. Algae like those in Odontella’s fake salmon also contain the omega-3 fatty acids in conventional fish. OmniFoods uses a high-quality canola oil in its new seafood line for the same reason. Faux-fish makers also risk pushback from traditional fishing trade groups who don’t want vegan products labeled as “tuna” or “salmon,” mirroring the debate about whether faux animal products can be labeled meat across the U.S.
Beef for sale alongside Impossible Burger’s plant-based meat at a Los Angeles grocery store in 2019. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg If plant-based seafood maintains its growth rate, it can catch up with fake meat’s share of the conventional market within the next decade, the Good Food Institute’s Lamy says. The technology is “not quite there yet,” she says, but the sector’s making progress. “If you look even at just photos of products from now vs. three years ago, it’s totally a different game.”
Spain’s Mimic is banking on that. Although it halted distribution of its tomato-based tuna when Covid-19 lockdowns hit, it plans to resume sales in several Spanish cities by the end of the year, eventually expanding into Denmark. The startup has visions of becoming “the Oatly of seafood,” giving the traditional protein market a run for its money as nut and oat milks did for cow’s milk.
“I think if the dairy industry had known 10 to 15 years ago what was coming, they would have prepared differently. The seafood industry can actually in a way benefit from what we have seen with dairy and beef, because the change will come,” Speyer says of her expectation that more consumers will move away from traditional seafood. “It’s going to be a party for the rest of us. But for some companies, this could be a real crisis.”