The face of agriculture is changing, and new growing techniques like aquaponics, vertical agriculture and greenhouses are just some of the most visible examples, said Karl A. Dawson, chief scientific officer, Alltech. Dawson provided what he termed “six insights” in to how we are going to feed a planet with 9 billion people to the audience of the Alltech Symposium in Lexington, Kentucky.

Dawson said that more people today are interested in where their food comes from. The rapid increase in the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S., up 75 percent in the last five years, was cited as an example of the growth of the local food movement. He said that local and/or organic food shows that consumers are developing a different vision of quality. Dawson said that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between small organic farms and modern industrial farming.

Big data is coming to agriculture

The collection of more information allows for better and timelier decisions, according to Dawson.

“Because of new technologies we can monitor all aspects of production,” he said. Molecular tools allow for measurement of gene expression in livestock and the interaction with nutrition. “We can tell you more about your feed, your animals and interactions with the feed,” Dawson said.

Predictive models will be developed to interpret all of this data, and Dawson said that this will drive our view of productivity, product value and overall well-being.

Dawson said that people will change the way that they eat, and will employ new nutritional approaches. He said that research on the importance of the ratio of mega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet are just one example of how we are on the verge of a nutritional revolution in human health.

In what Dawson described as the “new standards” for human nutrition, he said that we will look at common nutrients in a different way. For example, he said that mineral content does not define the ability to meet requirements, the form in which these minerals are included in the diet matters. Fat plays multiple roles in the diet; it isn’t just an energy source. Similarly, carbohydrates have key functional roles in metabolism and isn’t just an energy source. He said, “Nutrient interactions are going to define nutritional value.”

Data sharing will also allow for complete traceability throughout the food chain. Integrating the information across the food chain will allow for a reduction in food waste, Dawson said.