High-Tech Agriculture in the Nation’s Heartland
WASHINGTON—Today, Members of the House Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy, and Trade heard from a panel of agricultural technology (agtech) and agribusiness professionals on the rapid development of agtech driven by the private sector.
“Private sector participation in agtech research and development has surged in recent years. However, the most important stakeholders in any discussion of agtech are the farmers themselves. Small and family farmers cannot risk their time and resources for experimental innovations and technologies that may not work,” said Chairman Rod Blum (R-IA). “Farmers may be budding entrepreneurs developing new technology to improve their farms, but may need some help connecting with investors and mentors to bring their ideas to market.”
Small Firms on the Frontier of Agribusiness
Entrepreneurs are tackling industry challenges and facilitating technology transfer from the lab to the farm to the table. Agricultural regions are competing to be the next great innovation hub, which has spurred rural revitalization.
“When rural entrepreneurs succeed, rural communities thrive and prosper. As entrepreneurs grow their businesses, they create jobs for their family, friends and neighbors,” said Dr. Lisa Benson, Director of Rural Development at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, DC. “A hurdle many of these ag tech entrepreneurs faced was trying to access enough capital to scale up their production to reach economies of scale. To address this challenge, Farm Bureau created the Agriculture Investment Summit that connects rural entrepreneurs with investors from venture capital funds and accelerator programs.”
“Thanks to advances in on-farm technology, data science, connectivity, and remote sensing, it is possible for a wide network of farmers to actively participate in finding answers to their questions, and get paid for meaningful research through farmer trials,” stated Kevin Heikes, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at IN10T in Lexena, KS. “IN10T collaborates closely with farmers, ensuring understanding of the data, and converting data into invaluable, applicable insights.”
"Farmers saw such great value in our technology that multiple vineyards and one apple orchard even agreed to allow us to run small-scale field trials and generate our first field-trial data for our technology,” said Dr. Mark Kester, Chief Scientific Officer at AgroSpheres in Charlottesville, VA. “The willingness for small farms in our community to work with us was key to the early stages of our success.”
“It is no exaggeration to say that technology in agriculture has changed more in the past 100 years than it had in any 100 years prior, and perhaps more than in all of human history combined,” said Joseph W. Guthrie, Senior Instructor for Agricultural Technology at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. “There is no question that precision agriculture is an all-important driving force in crop production now and appears that it will be even more important in the future as it is more widely adopted, as the technology will likely become more affordable, and as it continues to improve over time.”