Though just down the road from each other, the country’s tech capital and one of the country’s largest farming regions are only now starting to work together—with only a little culture clash.
It’s 2020. Drones are flying over the tomato plants, taking constant quick snapshots of the field to look for problems. A stream of ultra-accurate weather data informs crop decisions, while a handheld pathogen detection system sets off alerts for diseases in the field in a matter of minutes. The whole farm is hooked up to a massive outdoor wireless network, to ensure that no swath of land is ever left unconnected. Somewhere around here is a farmer.
Silicon Valley has a lot to offer the growing number of farmers who rely on high-tech solutions. But while Palo Alto and California’s Central Valley, the place where much of the country’s produce is grown, are just a few hours’ drive from one another, the cultural gap is incalculable. If farmers and tech entrepreneurs can find common ground, our food supplywill benefit.
Ashwin Madgavkar, the founder of a startup called Ceres Imaging that uses aerial photography and spectral imaging to keep track of water stress and nutrient content in crops, has mostly figured out how to navigate that cultural gap. But it took some time.
“At first, when I approached farmers, it was more for advice—asking about decisions they made on the farm and how we could influence those decisions,” he says. “Farmers are simple at the end of the day in that if you can provide a product that will make more money than it costs them, then they will buy it. The biggest challenge is that farmers are busy—you have to really convince them it’s worthwhile.”
Agriculture is a huge industry in the U.S., and precision agriculture—the practice of using sensors, software, analytics, and drones to micro-manage crops—is a growing part of it, with a market size estimated to be up to $2 billion (and rising fast). Entrepreneurs and big companies alike are salivating; Monsanto recently bought San Francisco-based weather analytics company Climate Corporation for $1 billion, and a number of agriculture technology startup incubators and funds, including Farm2050, have started popping up in the region.
If you can provide farmers a product that will make more money than it costs them, then they will buy it.