The Future of Agriculture and Food Technology
At the recent Future Food-Tech summit in San Francisco, we had the opportunity to engage with emerging startups and learn about the rapid technological innovation happening within the food industry.
We touched base with leaders in food and agriculture, who focused on what innovation means for the food sector and what the future of food is going to look like. These are the people who are responsible for shaping and influencing the food industry in the years to come— visionaries who are trying to imagine what’s next.
As a stakeholder in these conversations, we can better help startups learn how to protect their ideas in a sea of emerging trends. Here are some of the themes that matter most to startups:
MORE (YES, MORE) PERSONALIZATION OF DATA FOR CONSUMERS
An evident trend in the future of food technology is the ever-increasing personalization for consumers. One size no longer fits all, and brands are struggling to forge more meaningful connections with their customers.
With product choice growing exponentially and brands fighting for consumer attention, it’s no surprise that a wise minority of startups have raised their game with data-driven technology.
Postmates, an “anything” on-demand delivery platform, unifies data to deliver a world-class customer experience. They use machine learning to predict restaurant orders, personalize and tailor orders, and can meticulously calculate delivery times.
With their technology and machine learning, Postmates is transforming the way that goods move around cities. They’re even working on building the delivery robot of the future, Serve.
As consumers, our hunger for informative and convenient experiences has seeped into almost all aspects of our lives—no less our culinary affairs.
We want to feel empowered and more often than not, we’re willing to hand over our precious data if it rewards us with a more relevant, tailored experience in return. Check out our recent article on disrupting the food industry with technology where we point out the value of listening to what consumers want.
Of course, we can’t discuss food without examining the people responsible for growing it. Artificial Intelligence in agriculture is a growing trend—and it’s leading to some interesting collaborations.
OLD MCDONALD HAD A DRONE
Believe it or not, modern farms are a lot more sci-fi than pastoral, loaded with cutting-edge technology and smart thinking. And it’s not just for show. Farmers are actually embracing new tools in order to meet the demands of our changing world.
Agriculture and food tech are bringing in the tech powerhouses: satellites, artificial intelligence, robots, and drones to conserve resources, produce more food, and lower costs.
Farmers are going digital for the same reasons that we walk around with a combined computer, assistant, phone, mailbox, library, and calendar in our pockets. AI makes them smarter, helps them do more and be better at what they do.
Currently, there are apps for scouting pests, crop monitoring, soil condition supervision, tractor automation, and efficient use of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
For instance, Gro Intelligence has developed the “world’s most extensive agriculture data platform” that bridges the immense data gaps across the global agriculture sector, which empowers decision makers, thereby creating a more connected, efficient, and productive global food industry. Simply amazing!
IBM’s new weather prediction platform, for example, crowdsources data from millions of sensors worldwide and is updated every 5 minutes for precision forecasting. Weather modeling has the mass potential to help farmers.
All of this information, analytics, and crunching tons of data help farmers come to ingenious conclusions and put these conclusions into actions, giving the crops exactly what they need. Nothing more, nothing less.
In the past, farmers had to head out to the fields to seek out weeds. Now, smart farming tools — high resolution cameras, drones, sensor-loaded GPS tractors — can now tell farmers exactly which weeds are growing in a field and where.
Automated systems can then deliver just the right amount of pesticide to each area.
Farmers use less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, improving productivity and sustainability.
A perfect example is the IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, which integrates electronic field records, weather data, soil data, equipment data, farm workflow, and high-definition visual imagery for super advanced and efficient agricultural analytics.
We’ve only just begun to tap the power of tools that help farmers grow smarter. In the future, these tools will also help connect consumers with knowledge as to how their food is produced.
THE NEED FOR INCREASED FOOD PRODUCTION AND THE GMO DEBATE
With the human population predicted to reach over 9 billion by 2050, demand for food is set to grow considerably. In other words, to cope with this growth in population, food production needs to increase by 70%!
With 38% of the world’s surface is already in use for agriculture, we can’t just plant more. So, important questions arise: What steps can we tangibly take? How can technology help increase production in a way that does not damage the environment?
The big ethical debate is: can genetically modified organisms (GMOs) help us achieve more food growth?
Most of the criticism around GMOs center on the potential risks to human health and the environment. However, according to some startups, there has never been any evidence of health issues associated with GMOs.
In addition, the impact on the environment is less harmful than traditional agriculture, which is a huge factor in why some businesses are favoring GMOs for the purpose of creating a food secure future.
Take Soylent, the startup behind Sillicon Valley’s favorite meal replacement shake, whose motto is: Proudly made with GMOs! They’ve bravely risked it all and placed all their chips betting on GMOs, claiming the benefits outweigh the potential hazards they can create.
And maybe they’re on to something! GMO crops have the capacity to provide nutritious, sustainable, and efficient yields that will help in maximizing the land in which they are grown.
GMOs are not the only solution for food security, but they are an important one. Combined with improved farming conditions, better use of water and reducing waste, GMOs can help to create better food options.
In a changing environment, there’s no doubt that the future of food could be GMO.
We were blown away to experience first hand what the future of food and agriculture holds. It was an honor to be a part of the conversation!
Science and technology are changing fast, and it’s exciting to see the many startups that emerge within this rapid pace of technological innovation. The competition is fierce! Startups must make sure they’re prepared for the future.
We’re definitely curious to hear your thoughts on the issues from the summit, particularly around agriculture and food technology!
Please, don’t hesitate to contact us to share your thoughts.
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