Silicon Valley’s Excitement over Food and Ag is Contagious
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Silicon Valley Returns to its Food and Ag Roots
The Mixing Bowl’s Food IT summit showcases agtech solutions in farming, food quality, supply chain and consumer habits

Attracting more than 300 attendees, The Mixing Bowl’s Food IT: The Full Stack conference shaped up to be every bit as exciting as the legendary TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

The conference in June in San Francisco brought together some of today’s brightest minds to discuss the future of food and agriculture.

Food IT showcased a melting pot of ideas on how tech is making a difference in the food and ag industry now—and in the future. It’s a rich market: Start-ups within the agtech space alone collectively raised over $1.5 billion in 2017, according to Finistere Ventures.

I came away from the FOOD IT conference with excitement and wonder for the future of this intersection of industries.

INJECTING SILICON VALLEY INTO AGTECH

Panel discussions and deep dive breakout sessions highlighted healthy debates over the role of tech and its potential. Some attendees expressed frustration over the influence agtech companies can wield over data, lamenting that it’s not helping farmers in the grand scheme of things.

Silicon Valley, which itself was once covered by vast orchards of fruit trees, is trying to solve agriculture’s problems with solutions that only work in other industries, many said. One attendee referred to the focus on image spectrum processing by some companies as having “pretty map syndrome,” suggesting the technology provides few solutions at best to farmers.

Start-ups within the agtech space alone raised over $1.5 billion in 2017.

This led to pushback from a few of the panelists. They cited Resson Aerospace, which is successfully using data capture from aerial images to drive insights into how farmers can better control pests and diseases.

During my eight years in agriculture, I have noticed that companies have had trouble translating data into smart actions in the field. Resson is solving that problem through a platform that interacts with farmers’ digital tools to provide prescriptive actions. Resson’s data-driven farming is just one example of a trove of companies at the Food IT conference showing how to save farmers time while providing value.

AI IS DRIVING EFFICIENCIES

A John Deere representative talked about how data can solve problems large and small. The company has taken a more practical approach to using data in agriculture.

It applies the data generated by tractors to predict part replacement on the farm, a simple solution. When you take into consideration how important it is for a farmer’s tractor not to fail before or during harvest, however, this tool is essential.

On a larger scale, Blue River Technologies, recently acquired by John Deere, is helping to solve how to reduce herbicides. Through precision spray technology, Blue River is applying machine learning to guide farmers in spraying to within one centimeter of accuracy to target weeds in the field. They have proven that this technology can reduce herbicide use dramatically. Reducing inputs on the farm was one of the many solutions discussed at FOOD IT that are improving the work of farmers.

Food IT showcased a melting pot of ideas on how tech is making a difference in the food and ag industry now—and in the future.

BLOCKCHAIN APPLIED TO FOOD QUALITY

Blockchain is a hot topic in just about every industry. At FOOD IT, we heard how blockchain, which relies on encrypted and decentralized data blocks for database storage, could help ensure quality and trust within the fish industry, where fraud is a huge problem.

At least a quarter of the fish we eat are mislabeled. This is creating distrust among consumers, who are increasingly demanding more transparency in the food value chain. Sustainability in seafood production is also necessary for the health of the ocean and transparency is key to ensuring that our children will have fish for seafood into the future. It will be interesting to see how blockchain will add value to that production chain as the tech evolves.

For me food and ag is an exhilarating industry. I came away from the FOOD IT conference with excitement and wonder for the future of this intersection of industries.