Sustainable Growing

Combine technology with biology to achieve sustainable food production on a thriving planet

Gonneke Gerkema
January 2, 2024

As a partner of Stop the Food Fight, Grodan recently participated in a debate on sustainable food production for the future. American expert Charles C. Mann delivered a thought-provoking presentation outlining the challenges humanity faces, and the options for continuing to produce sufficient food while enabling the planet to thrive. Grodan’s approach of ‘Designed to grow’ already supports his way of thinking, and could therefore contribute to the second Green Revolution as advocated by Mann.

water drop

Within the Stop the Food Fight project, participants are working in various ways to write the next chapter in sustainable food production. Their shared aim is to provide the world population with sufficient healthy and sustainably produced food, on a thriving planet. This requires a value-driven discussion based on respect and a willingness to listen to one another.
As part of Grodan’s involvement in this project, we recently participated in a debate in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. The session kicked off with a presentation by Charles C. Mann, a respected American science journalist, historian, specialist on food security and the environment, and author of the book ‘The Wizard and the Prophet’.

In that book, Mann questions whether planet Earth can continue to produce enough food to feed the ever-growing world population, which is predicted to reach 10 billion people by 2050. The ‘prophet’ in the book is environmentalist William Vogt, who believed that intensive consumption threatens to push the planet beyond its ecological limits. The ‘wizard’ in the book is Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning agronomist. He is widely regarded as the spiritual father of the first ‘Green Revolution’ following extensive increases in agricultural production resulting from initiatives he led worldwide, based on his belief that technology and innovation could provide the answer to feeding the world in the future.

Second Green Revolution

During his presentation in Amsterdam, Charles C. Mann discussed these two diverging points of view. It is time for a second Green Revolution, he said, but it will be far from easy due to the major challenges humanity is now facing related to water, energy and climate. However, all is not lost for humankind, according to him, providing that we take an innovative approach to combining technology with biology.

As one example, Mann suggests considering diversifying into different crops or varieties. Today’s crop production activities and associated research efforts have become dominated by a couple of crops that are easy to cultivate and harvest, such as wheat and corn. However, these are relatively low-productive grains; cassava and sweet potato generate more calories per hectare. What could happen if we broadened our view to other crops? To illustrate his point, Mann told the attendees that chestnuts used to make up 40% of diets in Germany back in 1800. Could modern-day technology for cultivation and harvesting be used to make this crop a viable option once more?

Shortage of fertile land

Another issue raised by Mann was the fact that almost all the planet’s fertile land is already being used, and it is particularly difficult to create new areas of fertile land. As Grodan, we are proud to have been contributing to tackling this issue for over 50 years through our activities in the Controlled Environmental Agriculture (CEA) sector. In line with Mann’s conclusions, CEA seamlessly blends technology and biology. In high-tech greenhouses, growers use cutting-edge technology to carefully control environmental factors like temperature, humidity, light, water and nutrient levels to optimise plant growth and yield. Grodan’s soilless growing solutions play a key role in this, enabling traditional soil to be replaced by stone wool substrates that allow precise rootzone management as the basis for healthier, stronger and therefore more productive plants.

Minimising resource waste

Additionally, our GroSens sensors and e-Gro platform provide a continuous flow of real-time data that growers can harness as the basis for adjusting their water and nutrient strategy for the best results. Therefore, besides ensuring optimal plant growth, Grodan’s ‘Designed to grow’ approach also helps to minimise the waste of valuable resources such as energy and carbon dioxide as well as water and nutrients.

By fusing the realms of biology and technology, CEA enables ‘anytime, anywhere’ production and empowers growers to efficiently cultivate high-quality crops. At Grodan, we continue to invest in research and development to further improve the efficiency and scalability of cultivating greenhouse crops such as lettuces and tomatoes, and also to apply our long-standing knowledge and experience to explore opportunities in other crops such as strawberries. In addition, we’re conducting ongoing trials to investigate ways to further reduce energy consumption and the carbon footprint as we work towards our goal of a 40% reduction. Therefore, we firmly believe that CEA holds the key to the food system of the future, and we are looking forward to continuing to support this revolution in modern farming for many years to come.

The start of data-driven growing (part 1)

Download the whitepaper about the start of data driven growing and read more what data-driven growing is and how it can help you.

Using less water when growing hydroponically

Water scarcity is one of the global challenges. The problem of water scarcity is a growing one. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. Food and agriculture are the largest consumers of water. As more people put ever increasing demands on limited supplies, the cost and effort to build or even maintain access to water will increase.