Feeding nine billion people with limited resources already looms as one of the century’s greatest challenges. The well-being — and political stability — of entire nations will hinge on boosting agricultural production. However daunting it sounds, the future is indeed bright. Emerging technologies will increasingly relegate food shortages to history.
New plant cultivars, farming technology and irrigation will draw more out of arable land while using a fraction of the water. Land management techniques will stop deserts from devouring arable land and halt the erosion of topsoil. Crops will be grown in fields where water runoff is virtually nonexistent. Solar-powered combines will harvest crops from fields with productivity that was unheard of fifteen years ago. The nutritional content of crops will greatly increase because of advances in soil enrichment and in the breeding of plants for special characteristics, such as resistance to disease. Farmers in developing nations will have access to cold storage. Food will be transported without risk of spoilage, making more food available to more people and putting more money in farmers’ pockets.
Many of these products are designed and engineered in Arizona. Scientists in our state are designing and testing materials to withstand temperatures five times hotter than the surface of the sun, ensuring aircrafts carrying people and cargo can withstand bolts of lightning that strike more than eight million times a day. Arizona innovators are developing advanced materials from the atomic level on up and connecting them to the internet. Even the notorious “urban heat island” effect will be addressed. In the future, Arizona’s roads may be covered by asphalt made of permeable materials that reflect heat instead of trapping it. Building walls covered in virtually invisible photovoltaic cells will cool interiors with solar energy. These new materials will help urban areas and cities reduce rising temperatures while enabling rural regions to gain access to electricity without relying on fossil fuels.