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The New Food Economy: How Innovation is Transforming Agriculture

May 27, 2015
Data analysis and computational technologies are giving farmers the ability to monitor their land better, to make decisions that can lower costs and increase crop yields, and allow them to access information quickly through their smartphones. Nanette Byrnes, writer for the MIT Technology Review, calls this the “new food economy.”

“By combining this information with data generated by soil sensors and weather reports, farmers could find ways to use water, seed, and fertilizer more efficiently, lowering their costs enough to more than pay for the technology investment while maintaining or even improving yields.”

Technology is not only helping farmers grow their crops, but also aid in monitoring the health of their livestock. For instance, there is an e-pill in trial that can be swallowed by livestock that can access respiration, heart rates and help determine the health of the animals to prevent the spread of illness-- without the use of antibiotics. Byrnes also suggests that investors play a crucial role in the development and innovative process to promote these technologies.

“Henden Manor Estates, which keeps 500 milk cows and younger Holstein Friesians in Kent, southeast of London, ’says that if they get it right, it will be so transformative.’”

Food-tech startup investment rose to $1 billion in the past year according to CB insights, and is popular among Google Ventures, Silicon Valley, and Monsanto investors. Such investments led to the creation of water sensors and drones which help farmers, like Keith Larrabee, make effective decisions. In her second article, Brynes tells Larrabee’s narrative, and explains that investors and companies hope their technologies will positively influence a farmer’s experience:

“When Larrabee began using such sensors, he had to walk into the fields to read each one individually—a process so laborious that he sometimes did it just once a week. But now, every 15 minutes, readings from the 25 sensors are fed into a network of solar-powered information-gathering stations scattered through the orchard. One of the stations transmits that information to a main database via cell signal. Larrabee uses his smartphone or tablet to log on to see that data, which is available almost instantaneously.”

It is nearly common knowledge that by 2050 farmers will struggle to feed the massive growing population; this industry relies on innovative technologies and creative investors to ensure economic stability and food for all. Farmers now have the ability to make choices that are affordable, effective, and based on fact.

“Farming is moving from being an act of intuitive decision making to an act of analytical decision making,” says David ­Friedberg, CEO of Climate Corporation, a data modeling firm that Monsanto bought for $930 million in 2013.