Access to Tropical Forecasts Equals Ability to Farm
Predicting weather in the tropical regions of West Africa is tough enough, but transmitting that information to the thousands of rural farmers making a living there is even harder. Swedish tech company Ignitia has tackled both issues with the development of the world’s first highly accurate tropical weather forecasting system, called iska. Ignitia partners with telecommunications firms to send farmers daily forecasts via text message, providing them with accessible, reliable and timely information that directly impacts their ability to farm in some of the world’s most fragile economies. On the horizon: expanding existing telecommunications partnerships to at least 14 additional countries, capable of reaching nearly every small scale farmer in West Africa.
Faster Results, Fewer Illnesses
The current process for identifying pathogens in food products is highly inefficient: companies must send samples to a third-party lab testing service, and by the time positive results are returned and a recall statement is released, the product is likely already on shelves, putting consumers at risk. A group of UC Davis researchers founded startup company Astrona Biotechnologies to redefine this system, developing a testing kit capable of detecting pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria in under an hour. Applicable in every stage of the food supply chain, from field to dinner plate, this sensor has the potential to dramatically increase screening efficiency for food companies, ultimately reducing cases of foodborne illness worldwide. The current focus: continued development of the next-generation system, an automated testing device with data tracking software.
The Future of Ag Robotics
Crops in the produce space are notorious for requiring intensive manual labor, from lettuce to berries and everything in between. Florida-based company Harvest CROO (Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer) Robotics, LLC, aims to reduce the hand-labor requirements of strawberry production with their robotic berry picker. The biggest breakthrough here—sensing which berries are ripe. Using a continuous picking wheel that rotates automatically to pick berries at faster rates, Harvest CROO is increasing efficiency while reducing the need for intensive hand-labor in the midst of an industry labor shortage. Next up for Harvest CROO? Fundraising for further robotics exploration, including continued refinements to the picker and the company’s vision system, which allows robots to identify ripe berries for harvest.
Funding our Food System
Technologies in agriculture continue to evolve beyond biofuels and GMOs as investors fuel this red-hot market. In 2015, 499 companies benefited from $4.6 billion in investment money, almost double that of 2014. The U.S. continues to lead in the ag tech investment sector but Israel, China and India are emerging as players as well. Watch for continued advancements in mobile technology, biologicals, drones, robotics, data analysis and more.
Great strides have been made in ag tech advancements since the venture capital ecosystem began to recognize early-stage start-ups along with similar investments by their larger, more economically proven counterparts (classically, “big ag”).
Continued success relies on bringing all the players—academics, engineers, investors and regulatory agencies together (along with farmers, processors and food companies) to reach a common goal. One thing is sure, advances in technology—along with new ways to think about food production and processing—will continue to upend the status quo at an increasingly brisk pace.
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