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Urban farming accelerator sprouting new businesses in a box

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Square Roots is a vertical farming accelerator with a campus of climate-controlled farms in shipping containers. Photo courtesy Square Roots
Square Roots is a vertical farming accelerator with a campus of climate-controlled farms in shipping containers. Photo courtesy Square Roots
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Urban farming, or more precisely, vertical farming is increasingly appealing to venture capitalists embracing agriculture-tech.

Global population growth and the need to feed a hungry world is one of the major reasons behind the development of vertical farming, a totally controlled form of agriculture using technology.

One vertical farming startup backed by VC funding is Square Roots. Founded by Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, the company sprouted up in a parking lot outside a former pharmaceutical factory in the Brooklyn, New York last August. Today, the company has raised $5.4 million in a seed round, led by New York City-based Collaborative Fund.

Musk, the younger brother of Elon Musk, says he wants to get fresher food to more Americans, building trust between consumers and the farmers who supply their produce, as well as identifying problems and developing solutions to the modern challenges of this new industry.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Musk said, “We want to bring the farm to a new generation of farmers.” He says he has been meeting with farmers across the country over the past several years as he grew restaurant chain, which includes The Kitchen, an upscale bistro, and Next Door, a more casual eatery with a lower price point.

He is hoping his “business in a box” idea will get more young people involved in farming. He agrees it is the younger generation that will come up with the innovations and high-tech solutions needed to overcome the problems modern farmers face.

“You have these 180-acre family farms, where you might only make $23,000 a year, and it’s so unattractive to the younger generation,” Musk says. “It’s about how do we get farmers to have a higher crop yield, to get more profitable? I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with farmers, but I don’t have all the answers.”

Investments in vertical farming start-ups growing

Square Roots isn’t the only recipient of funding this year. Plenty, founded in 2014, is a Silicon Valley-based urban farming startup that raised $200 million in July, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

Plenty CEO Matt Barnard told Business Insider their goal is to revolutionize the way the world grows food and sell that food for lower prices than typical produce is sold in grocery stores.

This vision is all well and good, but there are problems with energy costs. This new method requires a large amount of LED lighting to grow the produce, and this ends up making the cost of vertically farmed produce the same price as organic produce (sometimes even more).

Rob Leclerc, the co-founder, and CEO of Agfunder, an online investment platform for ag-tech start-ups says that while vertical farming does have plenty of advantages over traditional agriculture methods, they are still costly ventures until they can become fully automated.

“Vertical farms layer on an energy cost which makes it hard to compete with traditional greenhouses and outdoor growers, which get free energy from the sun,” Leclerc tells VentureBeat in an email.

The cost of LED lighting is coming down

In June 2016, Quartz ran a story on AeroFarms, a New Jersey-based vertical farming company. At that time, it was shipping arugula, kale, and spinach from a farm inside a former Newark nightclub to grocery shelves around New York City. At that time, a five-ounce bag of their greens was selling for $3.99, the same price as EarthBound, an organic grower in California.

Square Roots’ green produce isn’t cheap, not by a long-shot. A single serving bag of greens costs $7.00, although Peggs says customers have the added advantage of knowing who grows their produce.

The advancements in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) since 2010 has also led to dramatic decreases in their cost, falling 90 percent in the last seven years, according to the Department of Energy. The DOE also says LED efficiency and lifetimes have doubled.

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Agriculture

5 Cargill digital initiatives making food production more sustainable

How the agriculture giant is using the cloud, AI and facial recognition tech to transform the agriculture industry

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Sponsored by Cognizant

Agricultural production needs to increase by 70 percent globally by 2050 in order to keep pace with population growth and shifting diets, according to the UN.

Agriculture giant Cargill is turning to digital technology to tackle this challenge.

Whether through creating predictive software to give shrimp farmers real-time insights into their operations, or applying smart weather sensor technology to row crop irrigation to help farmers cut back on water usage, Cargill is creating IoT technologies to help farmers make their processes more sustainable.

“We are trying to bring digital transformation to the industry,” Neil Wendover, an executive from the Cargill Digital Insights department, told Bloomberg.

1. Mobile Shrimp Monitoring:

Cargill’s iQuatic software is a cloud-based digital platform specifically for aquaculture that syncs with a farm operations dashboard so farmers can monitor what’s going on in their farms using data collected in real-time.

iQuatic powers Cargill’s iQShrimp app, which receives data about shrimp size, water quality, feeding patterns, and health and weather conditions from shrimp ponds by way of sensors and automatic feeders.

Related: Driving the Convergence of the Physical and Digital Worlds – 14 Case Studies

This data is then sent to the app that uses predictive technology to give farmers insights and recommendations on feed management strategies for the shrimp, and the best dates for harvest.

2. Connected Crop Irrigation:

Cargill is also looking to help farmers on land by using smart weather sensors and IoT technology on sprinklers connected to smartphone apps to help Nebraska beef farmers cut back on water usage in crop irrigation.

“By using smart weather sensor technology in row crop irrigation, this program could help save 2.4 billion gallons of irrigation water over three years, which is equivalent to roughly 7,200 households over that time period,” said Hannah Birge, water and agriculture program manager at The Nature Conservancy about the partnership. “The reduction of pumping also means less energy used and less labor expense for farmers.”

3.Animal Facial Recognition:

Facial recognition is big these days — even on farms.

Earlier this year, Cargill invested in Cainthus, an Irish startup that has developed facial recognition for cows. Cainthus uses artificial intelligence and imaging software to identify and monitor individual animals on a farm. The cows are monitored for what they eat and how much milk they produce in an effort to help farmers manage their herd.

The images are collected from drones, satellites, CCTV, and smart devices.

Cargill also entered a partnership with Cainthus to bring its technology to dairy farms globally.

4. Cocoa in the Cloud:

Tracking and tracing cocoa shipments has largely gone untouched by technology. To change that, big companies like Cargill started utilizing mobile applications to get a better picture of where their cocoa comes from.

Traders from the companies, local traders and partner organizations started to collect GPS coordinates of each farm and details about the farmer themselves, like if the farm is within a protected forest area.

Download: Driving the Convergence of the Physical and Digital Worlds – 14 Case Studies

The system keeps a record of cocoa transactions, acting as a digital ledger. All this information is stored on a cloud-based database.

Cargill also has a target to commit to sourcing “fully traceable farm-to-factory cocoa” by 2030.

5. Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator:

Last year Cargill partnered with tech startups Techstars and Ecolab to create the Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, a “mentorship-driven” program with a goal of safer, more secure and sustainable food supply.

Participants in the accelerator are expected to be tackling problems like supply chain management, food safety, waste reduction, and traceability.

Download: Driving the Convergence of the Physical and Digital Worlds – 14 Case Studies

“This Accelerator allows us to invest our time and resources in technology shaping the future of agriculture, and to address some of the greatest challenges facing the food system,” said Cargill’s CIO Justin Kershaw in a Cargill press release.

The accelerator is expected to continued for three years and it recently announced the inaugural class of startups who will spend 13 weeks building their businesses.

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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Here’s the thing about how digital transformation will impact your business

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Here’s the thing about digital transformation: Everyone knows it’s happening.

But it’s hard to know which new technology or innovation is going to be the one that upends your industry, opens up massive opportunity, threatens your company, or forever alters your role.

Today we’re introducing a new, custom-tailored service to help you figure that out. The service combines journalism, research and market analysis to help you and your team understand the state of digital transformation (DX) and explore the key developments that will impact your employees and industry.

We call this our “Here’s the thing about…” service. Teaming up with the DX Journal, we leverage journalists, analysts, researchers and strategists to help your company get a full picture of:

  • What is likely to impact your industry
  • Your team’s readiness to deal with it
  • An in-depth look at major developments you need to pay attention to

Here’s how it works:

This service is designed to give perspective on how digital transformation will impact your company. We present our findings in an easy-to-understand format breaking down trends for multiple departments and for every skill set with documented takeaways and action items.

We uncover and share those findings in a simple, two-step process:

Step 1: Research & interview process

  • Custom research on digital transformation trends impacting your industry, customers, and competitors.
  • One-on-one interviews with your company’s executives, department heads or managers, employees and/or customers.

Step 2: Research presentation

  • A presentation to your company in an internal keynote-style presentation to any size group — be it a small strategy team or an all-hands employee seminar.
  • Our team of researchers, journalists and analysts will share the research findings, key trends in your industry and provide an overview of how well you’re set up to address challenges or embrace opportunities based on the employee interviews.

Who this service is for:

Let’s start by clarifying that digital transformation is not just an IT problem. Our clients are often leaders who are not technologists. In fact, many companies we speak with are surprised to learn how many areas of the business are impacted by DX, including marketing, HR, IT, sales, operations, legal, and others.

There’s no escaping that every area of a business is going to have to manage change that digital transformation brings. Digital transformation should not be left for the IT department alone to figure out.

With that in mind, we’ve designed this report and presentation service most commonly for executives and managers in:

  • Operations, finance & strategy
  • Human resource departments
  • Marketing and sales departments
  • IT departments

Sure, you might not have to deal with artificial intelligence in your accounting department tomorrow. Or chatbots in your HR department. Or big data solutions for your manufacturing warehouse. But how can you be sure if you don’t understand these emerging technologies? What if your competitors are? And what if they’re getting a 6-month head start?

To get started, please contact the DX Institute.

This post was originally posted on DX Institute.

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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IBM backs blockchain solutions for developing Canadian cannabis industry

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Canada’s soon-to-be legalized cannabis industry could create as much as $22 billion in revenue, and now provincial governments are searching for tools to deal with the newly regulated commodity.

Tech industry leader IBM sees blockchain as an ideal way to ensure transparency in the new cannabis market and to address concerns with criminal activity or fraud. IBM has suggested that Canadian officials evaluate the advantages of using blockchain to control the supply and management for the growing cannabis market.

Blockchain brings cross-industry transparency

Blockchain is a shared digital ledger that records transactions, allowing for the transparent tracking of exchanges. IBM is promoting blockchain technology as a valuable tool for a wide range of business sectors, particularly regulated industries.

The technology company partnered with banking groups such as Bank of Montreal and UBS to create a trading platform based on blockchain technology, called Batavia. IBM is also pursuing the use of blockchain to improve food supply chain safety along with a group of leading food retailers.

The pharmaceutical industry is already witnessing the benefits of blockchain’s advanced digital ledger technology. According to Pharmaceutical Technology magazine, the industry can use the new technology to ensure security, and blockchain can aid with the secure transmission of sensitive patient data and clinical information.

Tracking cannabis from plant to store sale

IBM have passed on their proposal to the government of British Columbia, according to the website Smat2Zero. The proposal outlines how blockchain can be used to track the distribution of the drug, from cultivation to point of sale.

IBM suggests that blockchain will aid and offer visibility for sourcing, selling, and pricing of products. Moreover, certified producers will be able to track inventory and supply.

The technology company submitted their proposal in response to a request for public feedback issued by the Western Canadian province.

A new kind of network

Through the use of data analytics, producers will also be able to make meaningful demand projections and review consumption trends. Moreover, everyone within the network will be able to see all of the data; real-time data collection would further allow the cannabis products to be tracked and traced at any given time point.

IBM pointed out that, “This type of transparency would bring a new level of visibility and control to the provincial regulators.”

While the potential application of blockchain to cannabis production is headline grabbing, the news adds another layer to the growing applications of blockchain to pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

The exchange of data in healthcare happens in high frequency among stakeholders, across varying platforms and technologies, creating the risk of error and vulnerability to cyberattack. Blockchain could be the key to changing that high risk exchange for the better.

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