The perfect storm of “smart farming” is about to be unleashed, with the world’s population expected to surpass 9 billion people by 2050, and the middle class expected to grow from 1.5 billion to 4.5 billion. At the same time there is an increasing emphasis on fresh food and healthy eating, and food production is expected to explode.
According to Norman Borlaug, the Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution,” “agriculture’s greatest spokesperson” and “The Man Who Saved A billion Lives,” “In the next 40 years, farmers will have to grow as much food as they have in the last 10,000 years — combined.”
Salinas Valley, just an hour south of Silicon Valley, is the fresh food capital of America and home to agricultural giants such as Dole Foods, Chiquita, Driscoll Berries, Taylor Farms, Ocean Mist Farms, JV Smith and Tanimura & Antle, to name a few. Salinas Valley agriculture is an $ 8 billion business and it is here that more than 80 percent of the nation’s lettuce is produced and other top crops, including strawberries, broccoli, artichokes and wine grapes. This is a highly competitive industry that has been refined over five generations, taking out every element of cost, and now it is ripe for innovation.
Brian W. Kocher, Chiquita’s Chief Operating Officer, says, “We have experienced substantial changes in growing conditions over the last years. It is clear that time-tested agricultural practices are no longer sufficient for an expanding population and we must be smarter and more efficient using increasingly scarce resources such as water. The intersection of agricultural and technical science is rapidly improving yields and efficiencies, and we believe the initiatives to link agricultural innovators with technology innovators will yield substantial benefits for both the population and the planet.”
In Silicon Valley there is a technology revolution taking place with the impact of sensors, big data, mobility, the cloud, drones and the Internet of things (IoT) and it expected that more than 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020. According to new research from International Data Corporation (IDC), a transformation is underway that will see the worldwide market for IoT solutions grow from $ 1.9 trillion in 2013 to $ 7.1 trillion in 2020. IDC defines the Internet of Things as a network of networks of uniquely identifiable endpoints (or “things”) that communicate without human interaction using IP connectivity – be it “locally” or globally.
“Like many industries today, the agriculture industry is being transformed by the use of data, in all its variety,” said Deborah Magid, Director of Software Strategy in IBM’s Venture Capital Group. “Data is everywhere, and over the next few years, innovative new uses of information in all aspects of farming — from yield optimization, to food safety and quality, to distribution, to water management, fertilizer management, connected vehicles and even whole new methods of growing food — will be adopted. It’s already happening. For example, Georgia’s Flint River Partnership and IBM recently announced a collaboration to use Data-Driven Agriculture Solutions to enhance agricultural efficiency by up to 20 percent.”
So the perfect storm is about to be unleashed, with Salinas Valley joining forces with Silicon Valley to make farming “Smart.” This major initiative called Steinbeck Innovation is a breakthrough concept conceived by SVG Partners and developed in conjunction with the City of Salinas to drive Agriculture innovation and technology. To date, the focus has been on driving entrepreneurship through the Kauffman fastTrac program and innovation with leading universities such as UC Davis, ASU, CSUMB and Hartnell College. SVG Partners is now launching a strategic venture fund and accelerator program called Thrive in partnership with major agriculture corporations to drive investment in disruptive new technologies in AgTech.
Publication date: 7/10/2014