International futurist Matt Griffin returned for a second year as the featured guest speaker at the EconAlliance Future Forum, where he again delivered science-fiction-like predictions about innovations set to challenge major industries in California over the next 30 years. Griffin's presentation focused on agriculture, energy, health care, transportation, and space as they relate to Santa Barbara County.
Specific to food producers, he cited the possible use of edible electronic tags to track top-producing crops like the heralded strawberry, which was the county's Number 1 crop in 2020.
Edible tags could prove to be useful, he said, furnishing vital information to both distributor and consumer about the movement of food products as they make their way through the supply chain. The technology — a form of microbial spray-on — is applied before the food begins its journey and offers a glimpse into the distance traveled and nutritional content. The information could also offer a food safety benefit, making it easier to identify the origin of foodborne illnesses, Griffin said.
The futurist also said a pivot from farming in the traditional sense to cultivating crops indoors in a controlled environment could boost the local economy and alleviate pressure on farmers experiencing crop failure due to drought conditions across the state.
Eighty-five percent of California is experiencing some level of drought, Griffin said, while still attempting to sustain the production of more than 400 commodity crops each year. "California has some of the richest farmland, but what is it without water?" Griffin asked. The answer could be found in vertical farming. "Local farmers could grow lettuce with 100% less water and pesticides at eight times the yield, and only produce organic crops," Griffin said. "Autonomous, vertical farms are coming, whether we like it or not."
Big corporations like Walmart, KFC, and McDonald's are currently looking to these methods, Griffin said, while Amazon has already begun its investment in vertical farming in selected warehouses through its grocery arm, Amazon Fresh.
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