Agriculture’s importance means it should get the best tech

Agriculture’s importance means it should get the best tech

  • Elliott Grant, Ph.D., is the chief executive officer at Mineral, an Alphabet company.

In November at COP27, world leaders gathered at Sharm El Sheikh and bemoaned the impact agriculture is having on the world’s climate. Collectively, food production contributes about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Bold initiatives to eat less meat, protect biodiversity, and sequester carbon in farmland were announced. 

But however worthwhile and earnest these efforts are, they overlook a hard reality. A changing climate, supply interruptions and inflation, pests and disease resistance, regulatory requirements, out-of-date incentives, new practices such as cover cropping — all are increasing complexity and risk for farmers. The problem is not that farmers don’t care about the environment. In fact, I know they care a great deal as it supports their livelihood, and farmland is often their greatest asset. The problem is that farmers don’t have adequate tools to produce more, while using less, under increasingly challenging conditions.

If agriculture is so important, why isn’t it getting the best tech?

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, center,  and Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey tour drone display at the ISU pavilion at the Farm Progress Show Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, near Boone, Iowa.

Despite the hype, private and public investment in agriculture technology is far, far smaller than investments in other climate solutions, such as clean energy (for example, venture capital and private equity invested almost 70 times more in cleantech than agtech in 2021).  If we are serious about helping agribusinesses transform and adapt, then they need access to the latest technologies and best science, adapted to the immense challenges of the global food system.  Take data, for example.  As an industry, farming remains one of the least digitized, according to McKinsey & Co.  This poses a profound problem in our efforts to address the large-scale challenges facing agriculture today.

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