A new agricultural revolution

Walter Russell Mead:
Drones that spray pesticide; special soil sensors linked to iPads; devices that detect crop contamination. These are just a few of the innovations wielded by a new Silicon Valley -Big Ag partnership that hopes to rationalize farming. The FT reports that a “coalition of top technology and agricultural firms” has created the Steinbeck Innovation Cluster to test out a new form of “smart farming” in the Salinas Valley. Through entrepreneurship and technological innovation, the Cluster hopes to pioneer a scaleable model of high-yield, high-efficiency farming that can meet the needs of a growing world population.

This is huge news. The industrial revolution transformed agriculture, massively increasing farm productivity and bringing new areas into cultivation. By creating a global transport and food processing system it enabled a new kind of agricultural market. Frozen lamb from New Zealand could be served for dinner in Norway.

The information revolution is going to have an even more powerful impact. The ‘smart farm’ of the future will be more productive and more sophisticated than anything we’ve yet seen. Genetically modified organisms will change our ideas of what forms can grow. Techniques like micro irrigation and micro fertilization will make agriculture more productive even while dramatically reducing the amount of water and fertilizer needed to produce the world’s food.
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Mead believes it will happen first in the US and Israel where people are more open to change and have the technology to make it happen.  Europe will be a laggard because of its luddite approach to food production.

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