Where Mining and Agriculture Meet
This was originally published by Davey Bickford Enaex.
The interconnectivity of essential industries has been one of the most glaring themes of the COVID-19 epidemic thus far. The need for social distancing has forced governments to define “essential business” with greater clarity. Grocery stores have been at the centre of it all. The food production chain must keep going if people are to be sustained. Everything from the sports-entertainment complex to the services industry can be switched off, but the calories have to keep coming.
The relationship between mining and agriculture is, of course, long-standing. Most modern farming equipment is made of ore (tractors and irrigation networks, for example). But today, agriculture itself is in the midst of a revolution. Efficient and sustainable practices are becoming necessary in order to meet the demands of populations and natural environments. In some cases, interactions between populations are changing.
The importance of sustainable agriculture will be highlighted in novel ways. If science and data are worth their salt, humankind must lessen its footprint. That means finding ways to be more efficient in everyday life, and in all essential industries. Mining and agriculture are a good pair to consider.
Australia’s first potash mine, announced in 2019. Others have been planned – but now the situation has been scrambled. The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled many equations of business, but the numbers for Australian potash looked promising before corona, and seem to be promising now, as more global resources move toward public health. It seems reasonable to assume: There is no way the mining and agricultural industries can be exclusively successful in the age of coronavirus.
Electric vehicles. Mining can help create better energy systems and drive better outcomes for society. Rare earth metals are needed to build sustainable batteries for any application, including robotic vehicles for mining and agriculture. All battery technology depends on our ability to ethically and sustainably harvest mineral deposits. Fortunately, the mining industry has already been reinventing itself on the heels of the millennium mining boom. Commercial mining stands ready to evolve.
Robotics and drones. Both agriculture and mining stand to gain much from A.I. and robotics. Naturally, there is economic displacement when robots take over human jobs. But the value of robotics can be leveraged for public benefit. But we cannot separate digital technology from the need for rare earth minerals. That means increased focus on harvesting ore to build better systems.
At a crossroads
Mining and agriculture both require employees, and wellbeing needs to be taken into account. In the age of coronavirus, mining and agriculture will be under increased scrutiny, in terms of public outcome.
By the same token, mining and agriculture both qualify as essential practices. We can’t stop growing food or mining ore if we want to grow civilisation, especially if we are dedicated to sustainability.
As power grids are increasingly decarbonised, rare earth metals allow us to build batteries for solar storage and electric vehicles. These technologies help drive sustainable agriculture, and the capacity to develop medicine. Everything flows from the sustainable use of natural resources.
In short, the essential business of mining will be thrown into sharper relief by the current epidemic. So far, a lot of money has flowed into the food production chain, delivery services, and digital services. All of these systems rely on the flow of metals and ores in order to sustain themselves and evolve new technologies.
Mining and agriculture still have a lot to learn from each other. There has been a lot of industry “cross-pollinisation” in recent years (e.g. between manufacturing, mining, and environmental sciences). In the age of COVID-19, mining and agriculture will hopefully enjoy greater transparency and knowledge-sharing.