Farming Meets Tech-People Got To Eat

Silicon Valley is discovering farming.  If anyone in the Midwest was looking for a building block to stick in a foundation for a Midwestern tech ecosystem, farming is a strong block to build off of.  One of my first angel investments was in Tallgrass Beef.  That was in 2005 and I have watched farming ever since.

When I traded hogs ($HE_F), one of the things we joked about when we were bullish is “people got to eat”.  There are more people than ever in the world and as middle classes emerge in countries like China, Brazil, and India, they desire different and better food.

Today I am headed down to Champaign to speak at an engineering class this evening.  I hope there will be Ag majors in the audience.

In order for us to feed the world, we need to figure out new and more sustainable ways to grow the stuff that the world eats.  California has a drought, and many are pointing to almond farmers as the culprit.  It’s more than that, but certainly figuring out new ways and places to grow almonds is a good idea.

US farming regulations also have to be modified.  It’s hard to be innovative when the USDA or FDA put you out of business.  We need to think a lot different when it comes to subsidies in farming.  Subsidies are disrupting all kinds of economic choices over how to farm, what to plant and where to plant it.   Instead of “bushels per acre”, maybe we should be thinking in “calories per acre”.  The rules and regulations for farming favor big corporate farms.  They aren’t friendly to the little guy or innovators.

There has been a lot of research dollars plowed into urban farming.  Interesting idea, but one thing to remember is soil in urban areas usually is polluted.  That problem must be dealt with first before tackling the problems of growing inside an urban cluster.  They are using buildings and growing vertical.  That’s cool too, but also puts a strain on energy resources.

Robots, genetics, production, soil management, distribution and logistics, and risk management, are all on the table when it comes to revolutionizing the way we produce what the world eats.  Monsanto ($MON) has a venture capital arm.  CME ($CME) has a venture capital arm.  But, we need more VC that takes very early shots in Ag.  That’s true seed stage capital.