by Ben Williamson
Smart agriculture sounds like a good thing. We should probably be smarter about everything we do: smart driving, smart eating, smart living.
Indeed, plenty of smart agriculture gives me cause for excitement, such as precision irrigation systems to conserve water and technology that connects dispersed smallholder farmers. I’m not opposed to technological progress, but when Sentient Media asked my opinion on “smart agriculture,” I realized my concern is that it will only entrench the perilous food system we have now.
The problem with industrial farming is that it externalizes all its costs, which the market then values at zero: animal welfare, the environment, biodiversity, racial and social justice all have zero value to a balance sheet. Further intensification of the food system we have will, I suspect, further entrench many of the problems we face today: food insecurity, climate crisis, wild animal extinction, and marginalized labor.
Factory farming was established to create efficiency. We were told it would enable us to do more with less. The problem is that we have now acquired a taste for cheap meat, eggs, and dairy. As a result, we’re just doing more with more and it’s to the detriment of many populations, including humankind. Instead of putting VR (virtual reality) headsets on cows or ankle bracelets on pigs, we need to learn lessons from the past that can be applied for a truly smarter future.
For example, diversifying agricultural inputs and planting hedgerows may not seem to be particularly smart or even an efficient use of valuable farmland. Still, the long-term implications in terms of restoring soil health, replenishing water tables, boosting animal health, and reducing feed imports are all well-known. Regenerative agriculture, local stewardship, and meat reduction are common-sense solutions that are available now and work to benefit animals, people, and the planet.
We need technology that works for the animals rather than animals who work for the technology.