The Future of Agriculture, Part One: Hardware, IoT, and Big Data
The THINK&ACT series, a production of FABERNOVEL and PARISOMA, aims to bridge the gap between startups and large organizations. It explores the cutting-edge of industry, tech and design. From the future of driving, to the shared city and big data advertising, we gather industry trailblazers to share their stories, demo their products and engage with our diverse community. THINK&ACT is a celebration of the progress industries have made and inspiration for the future.
Join us on Thursday, October 1st (6:30pm-9pm), as we celebrate the success of the food startup economy with a night of demos, delicious food, and rich conversation with thought leaders shaping the way we grow, source, and consume the things we eat.
The face of agriculture is changing faster then at any point in time. With the emergence of precision planting, automation, and data-driven practices, the farming industry is preparing for its next challenge: creating a 70% increase in yield by 2050 in order to feed a growing population. From smart sensors to weather-based insurance, from satellite imagery to robots, from management software to drones, American farms are undergoing a revolution.
The AgTech entrepreneurial ecosystem is more dynamic and ambitious then ever, and venture capital is fueling growth for these new players. In an industry known for its high capital requirements and low margins, innovation is key to both success and sustainability. How can we optimize water use? How do we guarantee that the right amount of fertilizer gets put in the right place? How can we determine the optimal point in time to collect the harvest?
Entrepreneurs are bringing new answers to these hard questions, with the explosion of not only hardware, but data and services for agriculture. Among all this positive noise and talent, two major - and somewhat contradictory - challenges underpin the farming industry: to increase yields while ensuring sustainability.
Hardware & IoT
Agricultural hardware is undergoing a revolution, as it becomes increasingly data-powered. Drones are used for fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide optimization. Through the combination of artificial intelligence capabilities and visual and hyperspectral technology, PrecisionHawk is looking to revolutionize the way farmers assess plant health, allocate water, detect weeds, monitor seasons, and do surveillance.
Artificial intelligence is also being used on the ground. Smart machines have started to embark computer vision and machine learning capabilities. Innovation Endeavor-backed Blue River Technology has developed its new LettuceBot, a machine that attaches to a traditional tractor and can run algorithms on 10 million images to identify a weed and spray it, so that the weed is disintegrated. The company thus provides high-throughput, high-yield, field-based phenotyping, precise weed control for lower chemical intensity in fertilizers, as a sustainable alternative to GMOs.
Smart machinery is at the heart of a very recent innovation which is becoming more and more common in both the US and Europe: precision planting. The firm Precision Planting, which has a large network of dealerships, provides a full range of precision planting solutions, from hardware to software. One example is the delta force solution, an adaptive-weight planting system which allows planting seeds at optimal depths.
Another way of gathering and using data in the field is by spreading sensors. These can be used for various applications. Soil quality monitoring is one of them. FarmX, who demoed at PARISOMA in June, is a startup which provides an affordable solution with high-quality probes that can be install in fields to monitor moisture levels. By knowing more about soil moisture levels, farmers can save up to 30% water. Another company working on soil moisture monitoring, Digital Spring, will be attending Think & Act.
While many of these companies are drawing upon the power of big data, some companies and initiatives take big data as their central focus. Ten years ago, an ex-Googler decided to launch a company leveraging weather data to build products for farmers. This company became the Climate Corporation, which was acquired by Monsanto in 2013 for $930M. Climate Corporation offers farm management decision-making software. The ClimatePro pack offers a plant health monitoring application (based on satellite imagery from their partner BlackBridge’s RapidEye satellite infrastructure) and nitrate-level tracking for fertilizer use optimization.
Though the big data space seems occupied by massive players, some smaller ones have emerged. MavrX, launched in 2012, recently released MavrX Scout, a platform based on their network of planes, UAVs and satellites, which can identify crops and measure performance and NVDI. MavrX aims to provide farmers around the world with actionable data to maximize yield. They will be demoing at PARISOMA as well.
We've only just scratched the surface of the Future of Agriculture. Join us next week as we take a look at software solutions optimized for farmers and Peer-to-Peer services helping to improve the way we grow things.