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May 27, 2021

Investing in digitalization

The importance of targeted R&D to speed up the transformation of the aquacultural food production sectors

By Harald Takle –  Head of Seawater Innovation & Development, Cermaq and Kasper Løberg Tangen –  Team Lead Customer Success and Project Manager R&D licenses, Bluegrove

Technology in food production – commonly known as aquatech in the maritime sector and agritech in land-based farming – has the potential to enhance animal health and welfare, while providing more food for the world’s fast-growing population.

Technology can help safeguard biodiversity and reduce both pollution and emissions, while at the same time delivering cost savings and rapid growth in production volumes.

This matters, because it is exactly what the world needs in order to meet an anticipated surge in demand for food, as the world’s population expands to some 10 billion people by 2050.

Intelligent application of digital technology
Producing enough food for everyone in ways that respect the needs of nature is thus about to become a greater challenge than ever before. It is therefore vital that we utilize global resources in the most efficient ways possible.

Our efforts to achieve a sustainable balance extend across a number of fields. We must make sure people are fed balanced diets and we must balance how much we take away with what we give back to nature. At the same time, we must ensure that the food production takes into account the ripple effects of its footprint, both locally and globally. 

For the food producers, an intelligent application of digital technology will make it easier to care for both nature and productivity. This balance is becoming more essential as we set out to facilitate increased food production while at the same time taking care of nature and its resources in a sustainable way.

Much of the technology exists already, but in order to speed up the transformation of the food production sectors we must carry on investing in digitalization. We must invest in monitoring technology such as sensors and cameras, in machine learning technology that processes the data in meaningful ways, and in artificial intelligence software that guides humans and systems that are to base their decision upon this information in the best ways possible.

If we do this right, we will develop solutions that make it desirable for farmers to choose production methods that are efficient, in terms of both resource use and capital, and sustainability. 

Investment in and support for research and development
Research and development must be at the core of our search for efficient and responsible aquaculture and agriculture solutions. Such solutions will become the only viable solutions.

Companies and countries that adopt technology early will be able to speed up food production in ways that preserve scarce resources, which in turn helps reduce waste and thereby pollution.

Both aquaculture and agriculture will see the emergence of more efficient and more sustainable companies, focusing on the farming of new species, on the use of new production methods, on new ways to produce and deliver feed to fish and to animals, and on the improvement of existing production practices.

Responsible companies that respect ecology will become highly competitive in the long run, hence old-fashioned practices such as overfishing or exploitative agriculture will no longer be viable, because of their higher economic, environmental and thereby human costs. 

Digital aquatechnology enables more sustainable production in conventional salmon cages and supports the development of new cage technology. In conventional farming, the development trends towards autonomous feeding systems that provide better growth and less feed waste, digital monitoring of the fish’s health and the environment it lives in, and monitoring of structures, which can reduce the risk of escapes. In closed cages, sensor technology and control systems are used to optimize water quality, which enables sustainable production intensification. 

Digitalization allows fish farmers to identify the right places at sea most suitable for farming, either in-shore or off-shore – areas needed to ensure enough, sustainable and efficient food production. Digital tools will also make it possible to identify the optimal composition of production technologies for different production areas, so that available space is utilized in the best possible way.

To fully utilize the sustainability potential of the aquaculture sector, we will need to push the boundaries of digital technology by investing more and more targeted in research and development. We will need a holistic approach, where the private sector, academia, and government bodies cooperate even closer to facilitate efficient development and implementation of digital solutions. Economic muscle, wise public administration, and academic insight must go hand-in-hand.

Innovations in hardware and digital development depend on each other as well, and the combination of both is needed to produce enough food for our future population while using as little resources as possible. 

Policymakers must do their best to speed up regulatory reform and approvals processes and to offer additional support for new hardware technologies and digital innovations in order to help pave the way for progress. Schemes must be accustomed to give proper support for technologies at different technological readiness levels, targeting both development of new solutions and incremental development of established platforms.

Only by working together in this way will we be able to achieve our shared goal; to feed the world in ways that both preserve and revive the planet on which we rely.

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