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Oligeeks Head Down to the Farm

Drones that spray pesticide; special soil sensors linked to iPads; devices that detect crop contamination. These are just a few of the innovations wielded by a new Silicon Valley -Big Ag partnership that hopes to rationalize farming. The FT reports that a “coalition of top technology and agricultural firms” has created the Steinbeck Innovation Cluster to test out a new form of “smart farming” in the Salinas Valley. Through entrepreneurship and technological innovation, the Cluster hopes to pioneer a scaleable model of high-yield, high-efficiency farming that can meet the needs of a growing world population.

This is huge news. The industrial revolution transformed agriculture, massively increasing farm productivity and bringing new areas into cultivation. By creating a global transport and food processing system it enabled a new kind of agricultural market. Frozen lamb from New Zealand could be served for dinner in Norway.

The information revolution is going to have an even more powerful impact. The ‘smart farm’ of the future will be more productive and more sophisticated than anything we’ve yet seen. Genetically modified organisms will change our ideas of what forms can grow. Techniques like micro irrigation and micro fertilization will make agriculture more productive even while dramatically reducing the amount of water and fertilizer needed to produce the world’s food.

Israel and the United States are likely to play a major role in getting this transformation started. Both countries are leaders in IT, and in both countries agriculture is important. For Israel, agriculture is made more difficult by the limited rainfall and water shortages that plague the country. For the United States, agriculture is such a major industry and exists in so many different varieties of climate and soil, that we will be devoting significant resources to making the changes that will shape the next revolution in the world’s food supply.

And the both the United States and Israel are more open to innovation than Europe. The EU has all the raw potential in the world to play a leading role in an agricultural transformation. It has the IT ability, it has a vital agricultural dimension to its economy, and it’s farmers are very well capitalized for the most part. However, European fear of innovation will likely ensure that Europe falls far behind the cutting edge powers.

[Corn image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Jim__L

    “special soil sensors linked to iPads; devices that detect crop contamination.”

    Lovely. Can these be mass-produced, installed, and maintained cheaply enough to come in under agricultural profit margins, or is this just another case of applying gee-whiz tech toys to a market that won’t see positive ROI for them?

    ” Frozen lamb from New Zealand could be served for dinner in Norway.”

    Here in CA we get lamb from NZ already. Norway is farther away from NZ, true, but it seems to me that if you can travel several thousand miles and still compete against local produce, several thousand more might not add as much cost as one might expect.

    It should be interesting to track how these commodities, trade routes, and industries develop over time.

  • Fat_Man

    What, pray tell, is an “Oligeek”?

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