Horticulture is the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants. It is a vital sector of agriculture that contributes to food security, nutrition, health, income, and employment for millions of people around the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), horticulture accounts for about 30% of the world’s agricultural production value and employs more than 100 million people1.
However, horticulture also faces many challenges in the 21st century, such as climate change, water scarcity, soil degradation, pests and diseases, market volatility, and consumer demands. These challenges require innovative and sustainable solutions that can enhance the productivity, profitability, quality, and resilience of horticultural systems.
One of the key drivers of innovation in horticulture is technology. Technology can help horticulturists to optimize the use of natural resources, reduce environmental impacts, improve crop management, increase yields and quality, and access new markets. Some examples of technological innovations in horticulture are:
A. Precision agriculture
This is the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) to monitor and control crop production variables, such as soil moisture, nutrient levels, plant health, and pest infestation. Precision agriculture can help horticulturists to make timely and accurate decisions based on real-time data and feedback. For instance, satellites and infield sensors can monitor optimal planting times and test soil quality so that farmers only deploy water, nutrients and fertilizer when needed2.
B. Greenhouse technology
This is the use of controlled environments to grow crops under optimal conditions regardless of external weather or climate. Greenhouse technology can help horticulturists to extend the growing season, increase crop diversity, enhance quality and yield, and reduce pest and disease risks. For example, Dutch greenhouses produce mostly vegetables and flowers like sweet peppers and roses using advanced technologies such as LED lighting, hydroponics, geothermal energy, and biobased materials3.
This is the manipulation of living organisms or their components to produce useful products or processes. Biotechnology can help horticulturists to improve crop traits such as resistance to pests and diseases, tolerance to stress conditions, nutritional value, and shelf life. For example, genetic engineering can introduce desirable genes from other species into crops to confer specific advantages. Alternatively, marker-assisted selection can identify and select desirable genes from existing crop varieties without altering their genetic makeup1.
These technological innovations offer great opportunities for horticulture to meet the growing demand for food and non-food products in a sustainable way. However, they also pose some challenges that need to be addressed by policy makers, researchers, industry players, farmers, and consumers. Some of these challenges are:
- Regulation: The development and adoption of new technologies in horticulture may require appropriate regulatory frameworks that ensure their safety, efficacy, quality, traceability, and compatibility with existing standards and norms. For example, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may need to undergo rigorous risk assessment and approval processes before they can be released into the environment or marketed to consumers1.
- Education: The use of new technologies in horticulture may require adequate education and training for farmers and other stakeholders to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to operate them effectively and efficiently. For example, precision agriculture may require farmers to learn how to use ICT tools such as smartphones, tablets, drones, or software applications to collect and analyze data and make decisions2.
- Acceptance: The adoption of new technologies in horticulture may depend on the acceptance and preference of consumers and society at large. For example, biotechnology may face ethical or social concerns regarding its impact on human health, environmental sustainability, biodiversity, or cultural values1.
Therefore, it is important to engage with consumers and other stakeholders to inform them about the benefits and risks of new technologies and address their questions and concerns1.
Horticulture is a dynamic and diverse sector of agriculture that has a significant role in providing food and non-food products for human well-being. Technology is a key driver of innovation in horticulture that can help overcome the challenges of the 21st century and create new opportunities for growth and development. However, technology also poses some challenges that need to be tackled by policy makers, researchers, industry players, farmers, and consumers. By working together, these actors can ensure that horticulture becomes more productive, profitable, quality-oriented, and resilient in a sustainable way.