Tech Frontiers On The Farm

Farming is a remote, not well understood, occupation for most people who live in cites. So the technology frontiers being pursued by farmers is one of the most interesting and unreported stories. But I’ve only touched on this topic before, especially in my report about very innovative areas of rural Netherlands.

In this post, I’m writing about some things on the agricultural tech frontier that have caught my eye. But this only is a sample — one that doesn’t even cover biological engineering on the farm. There is so much going on in ag tech that a single blog post cannot capture it all, even if it were limited to the US which is certainly not the only place this technology is developing.

As Cory Reed, vice president of John Deere — a company most of us associate with traditional tractors — has said:

“We are on the cusp of the next innovation wave of digital agriculture.”

The Tech Products

The various tech products cover everything from sensors and drones to assess the condition of soil and crops to sensors and locators on livestock to robotic farm machinery that does what was once back breaking work.

More diverse farm robots may emerge from the program that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) US Department of Agriculture announced a few months ago.

The app phenomenon has also come to agriculture. LambTracker is a smartphone app to track sheep. ThermalAid measures heat stress on cattle.

You don’t even need to have a large farm to benefit from this developing technology. For example, there’s the Edyn Smart Garden System with its sensor stick.

And for more urban farmers, there is technology for vertical, indoor farms from a completely automated one to one that cuts out any transportation costs by being placed in a store.

Big Data On The Farm

With all the data from sensors and drones collected on farms, it was only a matter of time before the big data movement hit the world of agriculture. As an example, Farmobile, has opened up its Data Store in Minnesota, where “farmers now have the ability to sell their agronomic and machine data to vetted third parties.”

Another company, the Farmers Business Network, hopes to help farmers by enabling them to share their data. In that way, FBN proposes to “access agriculture’s largest database of real world seed performance” and thus “unlock profitable, actionable insights from all your data”.

Startups & Investments

If you’re not involved in agriculture or rural development, you might nevertheless be thinking that this might be a good undiscovered market to invest in. Sorry, you’ll have to get in line. Other investors are ahead of you already, even in places where these investors are often hidden — for example, in San Francisco where AgTech2050 held its World Agri-Tech Investment Summit last month, in Silicon Valley where the Third Annual 2016 Silicon Valley AgTech Conference will be held next month and in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel which is hosting the Global AgInvesting 2016 conference today.

One recent estimate points to $4.6 billion in investments in ag tech startups last year, a doubling from the previous year. Just last week, one such company, PrecisionHawk, raised $18 million in funding from Verizon, Yamaha and NTT Docomo.

While there will always be new investment opportunities, the more positive part of this story is that this helps to ensure that the billions of us on earth will not go hungry. For the future of the countryside, this new technology adds to the attractiveness of rural life and the strength of the farm economy.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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