Valeria Kogan: How Can Technology Solve Fundamental Agriculture Problems?

Agriculture is one of our oldest, most essential industries. While there has been tremendous progress in the last half-century, there are still serious challenges to overcome with the help of agritech.

Problem 1: Extensive pesticide use

Pesticide use has reached an all-time high. The U.S. alone uses approximately 1 billion pounds of pesticides annually, and global pesticide use tops 3 million tons.

While pesticides are necessary and useful tools, such extensive use can lead to environmental problems. Traditionally, the solution has been to gamble on natural alternatives with questionable efficacy.

However, companies like ISCA, Inc. are using agritech to develop better, safer methods such as synthetic insect sex pheromone treatments. These low-cost, plant-derived pheromones offer highly effective alternatives to more dangerous pesticides.

Problem 2: Increased food waste

About one-third of the global food supply is wasted annually, which translates into wasted land and resources. Traditional advice is “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but advanced technologies can improve the outcomes of this strategy.

One solution is advanced data analytics. For example, growers partner with programs like IBM Food Trust to use blockchain technology to reduce food waste and create a more sustainable system. For instance, if there’s a recall on a specific grower’s lettuce, most consumers feel wary of all lettuce and either toss what they’ve bought or shy away from purchasing at all. This creates tremendous waste of unaffected foods. Food Trust eliminates this problem by offering total traceability from farm to plate so that consumers feel more confident in their food.

Another option can be better preservation. Therefore, J.R. Simplot uses gene-editing technology to “turn off” the genes in crops that make them vulnerable to spoilage or disease, saving billions in waste. Another company, Apeel Sciences, has engineered a tasteless, all-natural food coating that keeps produce fresh longer.

Problem 3: Excessive crop and livestock monitoring workload

With the pressure for constant expansion, simple monitoring for things like water management, yield forecasts and herd health has become an enormous resource drain on farmers and ranchers.

Classic advice tells farmers to expand their staff, but this isn’t always feasible with slim margins. Agritech has put more emphasis on using drones to help lessen this burden. In the UK, Harper Adams University’s Hands-Free Hectare team deploys drones to plant and monitor fields. Other startups like South African Kurai use multi-spectral drones for data-driven crop monitoring.

Problem 4: Lack of trust in AI

Agriculture has made dramatic leaps in sophistication over the past 50 years, but many farmers remain hesitant to adopt new technologies. McKinsey estimates that if farmers fully adopted agritech, they could add a collective $500 billion to the global GDP by 2030. However, the same research found that barely 25 percent of farmers utilize any IoT tech on their farms.

Conventional wisdom leads farmers to think that they should manually oversee all aspects of their operation or hire a consultant, but this only works on a small scale. Instead, farmers should start with compromises such as using automated greenhouses.

For example, companies like Monnit partner with farmers to provide specialized sensors that can be customized for their needs. They use IoT tech to deliver more than 80 different types of sensors, so farmers can create a custom solution to test AI capabilities without committing their entire operation right away.

Solaris Farms is another company using hybrid greenhouse tech to grow crops in the Las Vegas desert. They use upwards of 100 sensors to monitor and guide the entire growing process for better, larger yields.

Problem 5: No standardized data management

The future of agriculture depends on our ability to scale up and streamline. Agritech has given access to massive amounts of essential data that can be used to recognize bottlenecks, plan crop rotations and assess overall farm conditions. The problem is that it’s difficult for farmers to store, organize and utilize this data. Therefore, it’s also complicated to integrate various technologies and make them synchronized.

Traditionally, this information was collected by single farmers and only used on their respective lands. In today’s agriculture industry, farmers must start relying on Big Data to remain viable.

For example, Chinese startup Hoire leverages extensive networks of monitoring devices to create a detailed traceability platform for standardization of farming practices and more efficient operations.

Agritech is the Future of Food

The World Government Summit predicts that the global population will top 10 billion by 2050, which means growers must produce 70 percent more food with fewer resources. Fortunately, agritech startups have grown over 80 percent since 2012, and they’re coming up with innovative solutions such as vertical farming, 3D printing and gene modification in what the WGS calls “Agriculture 4.0.”

Agriculture is arguably the most important industry we have today. This sphere has made great strides, but it cannot continue to thrive without adopting agritech to solve the challenges it faces.


Written by Valeria Kogan, Founder at Fermata

Valeria Kogan