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Advanced level English - technical

With interactive worksheet

Aeroponics; feeding tomorrow's world ?

If our world is to survive for much longer, we have no choice but to reduce the use of natural resources and cut out wastage.  Compared to traditional agriculture, aeroponics does both.

Aeroponic in Chicago

  The world's population is expected to continue growing until the end of the twenty-first century; that at least was the general consensus of experts until 2019. Maybe in the new post-Covid reality, the rate of growth will slow; but even so, unless Covid-19 or some other new virus causes millions more deaths than initially predicted, the world's population will continue to grow, putting ever-increasing pressure on the natural environment, on resources, on living space, and most critically on food and water. Aeroponics will be part of the solution.

     According to a United Nations FAO report published in 2011, almost half of the fruit and vegetables produced in the world go to waste – they never get consumed by the humans for whom they are grown.
   Wastage occurs throughout the production and distribution cycle,  during production, during transformation, during transport, and even – notably in developed economies – after purchase by the final customer.
    Fifty percent of all fruit and vegetables going to waste, that is an enormous amount of wastage,  and not just in economic terms.  This wastage has a huge impact in terms of natural resources, particularly space and water, which in turn have huge implications for the global environment.
    Cutting out all waste in the production and distribution of food is an impossible goal. Even people living in small eco-sustainable communities generate waste. Even in organic crop production, pests and disease cause wastage; and even if harvested and distributed locally, part of a crop will always be wasted.
    But there is a large difference between wasting fifty percent of all fruit and vegetables produced worldwide, and the unreachable goal of achieving no waste at all. Between 50% and zero, there is plenty of scope for significantly reducing the volume of food waste worldwide simply through the use of new more efficient production methods.
    Studies have shown that packaging and distribution systems  account for about 25% of total wastage of fresh fruit and vegetables, leaving plenty of opportunity for improvement. In an ideal world, and as in the past, much of the food consumed in cities would be produced locally, not shipped thousands of miles as happens today.
    In 1998, the US Department of Agriculture released a study into fruit and vegetables arriving at the Chicago Terminal Market, the main point of distribution for the American Middle West. The report showed that basic vegetables including lettuce, broccoli, peas or  cauliflowers all traveled over 2000 miles (over 3000 km) before reaching the market... and before being shipped on to supermarkets across the region. Yet Chicago is in the heart of a massive agricultural area. Granted it can get pretty cold in winter, but with modern agricultural techniques, the Midwest could be self-sufficient for many types of fruit and vegetables, cutting out the massive environmental cost of shipping tons of vegetables half way across a continent.
    Since 2011, Chicago's O'Hare airport has been home to an aeroponic garden (photo top of page) , where people can see how vegetables can be grown in an environment that is not only without soil but even without any permanent medium in which to grow. In this experimental  garden, plants are grown, as the name suggests, ... in the air, their roots hanging down in nothing.
    Hydroponics, growing plants in troughs of nutrient-rich water, has been developing since the 1970's. Aeroponics takes things one step further, by removing the water and replacing it with air. Not just air, obviously; while plants are grown with roots hanging in the air, these roots are regularly sprayed with a nutrient-rich solution that gives them just what they need for optimum growth. It's very high-tech, it's not cheap, and it's a long way from currently popular organic farming techniques. Yet in many ways, aeroponics is actually more environment-friendly than even the most strictly managed traditional organic farming methods. And it's down to one factor: waste.
    Traditional farming is wasteful; modern intensive agriculture relies on large inputs of external resources, notably heat, water and nutrients. The vast amounts of water used by agriculture are already causing serious problems in many parts of the world; beneath California's San Joaquim Valley, the world's most productive agricultural area, water tables have been dropping for almost a century, and scientists estimate that the land... not the water table below it... has sunk by over 8 metres in some parts. NASA calculate that Southern California had a "water deficit" of 4.2 gigatons per year from 2002 to 2015.
    Aeroponic agriculture reduces water waste to zero. The only water used is what is actually taken up by the roots of plants when they are sprayed. Any water not used can be collected and reused.
    The same goes for nutrients; in traditional agriculture, plants only extract a small proportion of nutrients from the ground, and good ground will have many nutrients in it that will not be used at all by the crops grown on it. In an age of diminishing natural resources, traditional agriculture uses millions of tons of chemical fertilizer each year, much of which goes to waste. In Brittany, France, many streams and beaches have been seriously polluted by nutrient-rich water running off fields, causing "algal bloom" along the seashore and covering some beaches in green slime. With aeroponic agriculture, no nutrients are lost, so there is no risk of unintended pollution.
    One big advantage of traditional agriculture is that it almost always uses natural heat and light, even if under glass or plastic. Aeroponic agriculture, by contrast, may require artificial heat and light, specially if practised indoors. But with the development of small-scale locally-sited renewable energy production, and highly energy-efficient buildings and lighting systems, large-scale indoor aeroponic vegetable growing units are liable to be a feature of tomorrow's cities.
    If all the lettuces consumed in Chicago in winter could be grown locally, in carbon-neutral zero-waste aeroponic "farms", instead of being brought in by truck from California, that in itself would lead to a huge reduction in the use of water, minerals, land-space and transportation costs.  Reproduced on a global scale, reduced use of natural resources will be vital for ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come, even when the global population goes above 10 billion.

WORDS :
consensus: agreement, accord -  rate: speed -  initially: originally -  FAO: the Food and Agriculture Organisation -  purchase: buy - in turn: then, next -  implications: consequences - sustainable: renewable, able to continue permanently - pests: insects and animals that cause damage - harvest: pick, cut - scope: opportunity - granted: it is true that... -   medium: substance - trough: basin -  nutrient: food for plants - gigaton: a billion tonnes -  algal bloom: proliferation of green vegetation in the water -  slime: muck, a wet sticky mess -  are liable to be: will probably be.




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STUDENTS' interactive WORKSHEET

Aeroponics

To save your answers, take a screenshot or select and print.

1. Choose the nearest equivalent of each of the following expressions: click down arrow and select the correct answer.

2  Explain in your own words the meaning of the following compound noun groups:





. Replace all the word endings in this extract from the article.

Cut out all waste in the product and distribut of food is an imposs goal. Even people liv in small eco-sustain commun generate waste. Even in organ crop product pests and disease cause wast and even if harvest and distribut local part of a crop will always be wast
    But there is a large difference between wast fifty percent of all fruit and vegetables produc world, and the unreach goal of achiev no waste at all. Between 50% and zero, there is plenty of scope for signific reduc the volume of food waste simp through the use of new more effic product methods.
    Studies have shown that packag and distribut systems  account for about 25% of total wast of fresh fruit and vegetables, leav plenty of opportun for improve.



Teachers section : Using this article in class.

Technical language:

Although this is a technical text using the language and style of technical writing, it is not a text that requires specialist technical knowledge. This is a technical text for advanced students whether they are technically minded or not. The subject is one that concerns everyone.
Some of the vocabulary used in this article may be new to some students, but is not explained in the vocabulary guide. This is deliberate, as the meanings of some words such as wastage or crops, should be evident from the context. 
Note also the use, in this article, of compound noun groups, a familiar feature of technical language. In this article, the more complex of these have been left to towards the end of the article, by which time students should have understood enough about the subject in hand to easily work out the meanings of these groups, which are listed in the exercise above.
For more general ideas about using a technical article like this in class, see the Linguapress general guide to working with technical texts in the English class.

DISCUSSION:
Free expression (written or oral): discuss the issue of aeroponic agriculture in class, or else write a short pamphlet promoting or attacking the development of this new form of agriculture.

Reading for information:
 Students should make a list of all the advantages and disadvantages of aeroponic agriculture mentioned in this article



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