Video: Precision Agriculture

Visualizing Agricultural Innovation

In a new essay, Breakthrough's Linus Blomqvist and Applied Invention's David Douglas consider trends in global food demand and crop yields. Given how much land humans use to grow food today, and how much progress we're making towards growing it more efficiently, is peak farmland in sight? Watch the video below, and read Blomqvist's and Douglas's essay for more information.

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Breakthrough Does the Impossible

First Taste of the Meatless "Burger that Bleeds"

On an otherwise ordinary fall Monday, the staff of Breakthrough Institute did the impossible. Impossible Burger, that is.

The Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods has started a limited release of its Impossible Burger, the meatless burger that "bleeds," at select restaurants in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. One hundred percent plant-based with ingredients including wheat, soy, and coconut oil, the Impossible Burger’s “magic ingredient” that gives it its unique meat-like quality is a protein molecule called “heme.” Heme is especially abundant in animal muscle and “is what makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty,” but the team at Impossible Foods was able to extract and ferment it from plant ingredients.

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Can Industrial Food Be Part of the Food Movement?

Earlier this month, Jayson Lusk, a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, made the audacious case that “Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment.”

Lusk explains that operating at a large scale gives farmers the opportunity to invest in technologies that both improve productivity and reduce environmental impacts, like advanced machinery that can precisely track crop yields or water use. These tools and the precision they enable is something farmers a few decades ago could only dream about. He presents statistics showing American farm productivity has risen in recent decades while environmental impacts like land use and soil erosion have decreased.

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Do High Agricultural Yields Spare Land for Conservation?

New Data and Perspectives in the Organic vs. Conventional Debate

Last week, the open-access journal PLoS ONE published a paper by Andrew Kniss, Steven Savage, and Randa Jabbour measuring the difference in crop yields between organic and conventional farms in the US. But, in line with the author’s express hopes, this paper is “not just another organic yield vs conventional comparison for partisans to throw at each other in debates.”

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Nature Unbound

Decoupling for Conservation

Over the last two centuries, the growing human population and rising consumption have caused widespread loss of wildlife and natural habitats. Existing conservation approaches based on protected areas and ecosystem services have been unable to stem this loss at the global scale.

There are also many trends that suggest hope for the future, however. Technological progress is increasingly decoupling environmental harm from economic growth. A new Breakthrough Institute report, titled Nature Unbound: Decoupling for Conservation, offers a new framework for global conservation that focuses on accelerating the technological and economic processes that drive decoupling.

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Agriculture

Feeding a population approaching 10 billion will require major innovations in the way we grow, distribute, and think about food. To meet demand with minimal environmental harm, we will need to sustainably intensify agriculture, growing more food and livestock on less land and using less water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Genetic modification and advanced technologies like lab-grown meat and high-rise greenhouses are needed to meet food demand efficiently and with minimal environmental harm.