Maths has been pivotal for the expansion of human society for thousands of years. It helped the ancient Egyptians construct the pyramids, put men on the moon in the 60s and was involved in countless innovations over the years.
Nowadays, one of the biggest challenges facing humanity is the problem of food security. With the ever-expanding global population and the challenges being thrown up by climate change, feeding the world is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem. However, mathematics could prove to be the key to solving some of these issues. Many with a maths degree are now opting to apply their skills to the world of agriculture. Here are some of the ways that maths might help to solve the food security crisis.
What is Food Security?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines food security as a time when all people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food at all times. The overarching goal of a world where food security exists is to allow all people to maintain healthy and active lifestyles by reducing food poverty.
Food security is an incredibly complex issue and has implications beyond just ensuring that people have enough food. Of course, the public health aspect is significant enough to make the issue of utmost importance, but tackling food insecurity can also help promote sustainable development, trade and a healthier environment.
The constantly growing global population and the ever-worsening environmental crisis have accelerated the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle food security. Many disciplines are involved in creating sustainable agriculture, from politics to genetics. However, maths could hold the solution to many of the challenges that are thrown up.
How Maths Can Play a Role
As previously mentioned, nearly every important technological innovation during human history has involved maths to some degree. Whether it was understanding and harnessing the power of electricity, or detailing the human genome, maths played a vital role.
Despite its propensity for driving innovation, the use of complex mathematical modelling or applied maths to the world of agriculture has been slow to take root. This might not come as a surprise to many.
You may be wondering how maths could help something as intuitive as farming. Indeed, current projections for population growth show that the number of people on the planet will soon reach an unsustainable level, given our current ability to produce food. As a result, new and creative approaches need to be taken to tackle the issue. It’s in this area that the power of maths could be essential to drive innovation.
The Relationship Between Maths and Farming
Precision agriculture is the term used when advanced mathematics is applied to the process of growing crops. This is a long way away from the farming techniques that have become standard after thousands of years of trial and error. While these methods might have worked well enough to feed a smaller population, efficiency needs to be prioritised nowadays.
Using the analytical power of maths and statistics, it is now possible to substantially boost efficiency and productivity in farming. This information can help farmers know when they should plant crops and when it’s optimum to harvest them. Precision agriculture incorporates massive amounts of data into an interpretable format. By collecting current and historical weather data, historical information on growth patterns and success, soil quality analysis and other measurements, it is possible to identify the optimal plan of action.
Precision agriculture doesn’t only have applications in crop growth. It can also be used to improve the efficiency of animal farming. For example, many poultry farms are now using math knowledge to enable automation and boost productivity. Modern poultry farms use automated monitoring systems to generate massive data sets, which are then used to streamline such farms. These systems can monitor the amount of feed and water that is consumed by each hen.
Additionally, the weight of each hen, their egg production levels and the environmental factors that can influence these are all monitored automatically. This data can then be analysed to spot any variances that could impact the performance of the farms. Ultimately, a data-driven approach helps farmers solve problems and tackle production issues much faster and more precisely.
Despite its usefulness, new methods of applying advanced mathematics to these datasets is rapidly becoming standard practise in agriculture. This helps to generate statistical models, which can be used to assess the possible outcomes of almost any course of action. When farmers use statistics, it boosts the chances of success of agriculture by making more favourable decisions.
The applications of maths in agriculture are leading many talented mathematicians to move into farming and food security. Nowadays, a solid understanding of maths is almost essential to work in any field pertaining to agriculture. So if your interests lie in this area, but you are not confident in your mathematical ability, consider getting a maths tutor to enhance your skills.
Data Collection is Improving
Statistical modelling and precision agriculture can only ever be as good as the data that is collected. Therefore, to meet the ever-increasing global demand for food, new and innovative ways of gathering relevant data are considered. Now, drones and advanced sensors are common in agriculture to enhance data quality that can be used for modelling and predictions.
For example, if a winemaker wants to assess the ripeness of the grapes in a vineyard, they can simply fly an unmanned aerial vehicle above their crop. Additionally, near-infrared sensors can be attached to drones to assess crop health by monitoring chlorophyll levels in plants.
There are also environmental implications for improved data collection systems. Fertilizers play a crucial role in agriculture as they help to maximise the yield of crops. However, using too much fertilizer can lead to eutrophication. This is the process where excess nitrogen runs from farmland into water sources. This can cause algal blooms and effectively decimate the wildlife in the area.
By using on-site soil-testing solutions, the optimal quantity of fertilizer can be determined in real-time. Then, the precise amount can be programmed into a variable fertilizer distribution system that will automate fertilizing crops, while delivering the optimal amount to maximise yields without causing environmental harm.
Maths Can Assist Crop Breeding
It seems that producing crops with genetic coding that allow them to survive in adverse conditions, while also generating higher yields, will be the future of agriculture. Although this is an excellent idea, the underlying biology of attaining such a goal is immensely complicated.
This is where advanced maths could play an important role. Using maths, it is possible to take a systematic approach to the production of successful hybrid crops. This methodology allows for breeding crops with the exact traits they need to survive in specific environments. Ultimately, this is the future of precision agriculture.
The ability to change the shape and size of features of crops to improve their survival in arid environments – or improve their yields in highly fertile land – will help maximise food production as the global population grows.
As we’ve seen, maths and statistics are helping to revolutionise agriculture in the hopes of improving global food security. As populations grow and the climate becomes more inhospitable for crops, approaches like precision agriculture are essential. Additionally, maths is necessary for the production of more resilient crops through selective breeding and genetic modification. Ultimately, the future of food security hinges on mathematical approaches to optimise agriculture.