I’m not a farm girl by any stretch of the imagination.
I grew up in the city, less than a stone’s throw from downtown Cincinnati. But I think it was part of growing up in Kentucky that I also spent many summers putting hours in on small family farms, picking strawberries, green beans, cucumbers and whatever else my grandfather and uncles decided to plant that year.
My husband has his own horror stories of working in the tobacco fields during the summer months.
Even at a young age, as I stood up, stretching out sore muscles in my back and aching fingers, I remember thinking that there has got to be an easier, smarter way to do this.
A couple decades later, with the help of the ongoing Internet of Things revolution, we are now starting to make serious headway into making farming smarter, and that’s going to create some massive investment opportunities…
The Future of Farming
Farming feels as if it is one of the last domains of the world untouched by technology. Manufacturing has been revolutionized by robots, publishing has been digitized and retailers are being shuttered thanks to online shopping.
But if farming is going to keep up with the demands of the world, it needs to adopt smart farming technology. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that global production of food, feed and fiber must increase by 70% by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population.
And we’re already starting to see the early fruits of those endeavors…
Two farming startups are bringing farming to urban spaces so that locally grown food can get to consumers without needing to travel long distances.
Bowery has raised more than $27 million in total funding to rehabilitate old warehouses into vertical farms, which produce food in vertically stacked layers and usually without using soil.
By using vision systems, automation technology and machine learning to monitor crops, Bowery reports that it is able to use 95% less water and no pesticides. It is 100 times more productive on the same footprint of land than traditional farming.
In addition, AeroFarms has received more than $100 million in funding. It is transforming a 70,000-square-foot steel mill into the world’s largest indoor farm. It has reported that it is 130 times more productive per square foot annually than field farms, using 95% less water and 40% less fertilizer. Crops that usually take 30 to 45 days to grow can take as little as 12 days.
While vertical farming is not yet a practical solution to replacing the world’s farms due to the huge amount of electricity it requires and limitations on what can be grown, it does represent a strong avenue to adding to overall food production. And investors are very interested. Research and Markets expects the vertical farming industry to grow to $5.8 billion by 2022.
Robots in the Fields
Robots aren’t limited to just making cars, shoes and your next hamburger. Robots are starting to make a considerable difference in farming. A company called Blue River Technology is helping farmers manage their fields more efficiently through the use of computer vision and machine-learning algorithms that allow farmers to spray herbicides selectively. Blue River’s LettuceBot has reduced herbicide use by a factor of 10.
Meanwhile, dairy farms have stepped into the future through the use of more robots to handle the milking of cows. Through the use of sensors, lasers and data collection, robots are able to milk cows without needing a single human.
Lely, a Dutch agriculture technology (agtech) company, estimates that 2,000 robotic milking machines have been installed in the U.S.
The use of robots and data collection has enabled farms to increase milk production, trim labor costs, detect and treat illness better, and generally improve the quality of life for both animals and humans.
Profit From the Revolution
We are just beginning to scratch the surface of how this new technology can revolutionize one of the oldest occupations. Data collection, sensors, GPS and robotics will help to farm smarter, increasing yields in a world where the amount of arable land is constantly shrinking and fresh water resources are drying up.