Is agriculture tech the solution for climate change and water pollution?

There has been a lot of discussion in the media as well as in the scientific world about steps that need to be taken to reverse climate change trends. While a multi-pronged approach that involves continuous efforts from bioassessment laboratories is needed, innovation and technology must come from other sectors too.

One of these sectors is undoubtedly the agricultural industry, and many of these future efforts could happen in our own backyards in the next few years, according to Modern Farmer.

Ag Tech: A solution to U.S. climate change problems
In August 2014, climate change once again made headlines. However, this time it wasn't about sea level rise in Southeast Asia or melting ice caps in Antarctica. During a two-day stint during the hottest days of the year, residents in Toledo, Ohio, were instructed to abstain from drinking, cooking with, showering or bathing their children with local city water.

The reason? Lake Erie was suffering from – and continues to deal with – toxic algal bloom growth. Many parts of the water body resemble pea soup, and the growth has gotten so bad that the blooms can be seen from NASA satellite pictures. In the heartland where intense agricultural production takes place, fertilizers are used routinely and at a high rate. In fact, according to Modern Farmer, around 80 percent of the watershed is involved somehow in agricultural-related activity. During the spring and summer, heavy precipitation floods the flat plains of Ohio, rushing the water – and these toxins – into Lake Erie, lending to catastrophic algal bloom growth.

The way we cultivate our food has a massive impact on our planet's aquatic ecology. The way we cultivate our food has a massive impact on our planet's aquatic ecology.

Rising global temperatures in the past 10 years have not helped. Lake Erie is the most shallow of the Great Lakes, and the water tends to get hotter here, making the condition even worse. 

"It's the perfect petri dish," Terry McClure, a farmer whose family cultivates 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat west of Toledo, explained to Modern Farmer.

McClure is a fifth-generation Ohio farmer, and he believes that a lot is at stake with this problem locally, regionally and nationally. Concerned with the agricultural and financial health of the region, McClure paired up with 30 other farmers and Ohio State University to look at samples of the water coming from their farms.

McClure told the source that he believes technology can help reduce these issues. In fact, he stated that his fertilization tactics are steered by GPS software to reduce fertilizer overuse, and some other farmers in the area have also outfitted their fields with overhead drones to monitor fertilization techniques for their crops.

Worldwide climate change and ag tech
While Northeast Ohio uses software and drones to battle the agricultural pain points of climate change, other regions around the world are also struggling with global warming problems in their fields. Many of these areas lie in some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

"More generally, developing countries are vulnerable to climate change because they depend heavily on agriculture, they tend to be relatively warm already, they lack infrastructure to respond well to increased variability, and they lack capital to invest in innovative adaptations," a study from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development states.

There has been a public outcry in recent years to reverse global warming trends in agriculture. There has been a public outcry in recent years to reverse global warming trends in agriculture.

The study also says that agricultural practices contribute to one-fourth of climate change patterns worldwide. In Toledo, Ohio, and around the world, more advancements in ag tech could become a viable solution to reverse climate change patterns and improve the aquatic ecology of many ecosystems on a global scale. 

There are signs that this is already happening. According to Tech Crunch, ag tech "had a breakout year in 2014" with $2.36 billion in investments. Much of this shift is due to motivation from the general public to tackle climate change, new hardware technology and the explosion of big data and macroeconomic trends. 

This is an important momentum shift as a new generation must tackle the worldwide effects of climate and come up with creative sources to feed a world population that continues to grow.