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04 Apr 2024

Agriculture is leading tech innovation. Here's why other industries should pay attention

Agriculture is leading tech innovation. Here's why other industries should pay attention

There’s a joke about a farmer who has a terrible internet connection. He moves the router to his horse barn outside and says, “Now I have stable Wi-Fi.”

It works because few people think rural America is a place to catch technology in action. But this betrays a misunderstanding of today’s farms, which, to give a good example from the past year, just got their own fully autonomous electric vehicles, while San Francisco’s tech crowd still holds its breath for driverless personal cars. In fact, the agrarian setting has emerged as the backdrop for a number of cutting-edge technological and scientific advancements, many of which may already be in operation on farms near you. (You can see the trend illustrated in the full list of 2024’s Most Innovative Companies in agriculture.)

Futuristic tech’s use in agriculture “is no longer limited to science experiments,” says Aaron Rudberg, senior managing director and chief operating officer of S2G Ventures, one of the largest VC funds focused on food, energy, and agriculture. In recent months, he says he’s watched several agtech firms “move from the lab to generating seven-figure top-line revenue.”

Monarch Tractor—literally a Silicon Valley tech startup—has been selling its MK-V, the electric AI-powered tractor mentioned above, to berry farms, orchards, dairies, and even golf courses across America since April. The company has lobbied to get farmers access to the same federal subsidies enjoyed by Tesla or Rivian buyers, though those companies’ EVs still require a human behind the wheel. Monarch’s CEO, Praveen Penmetsa, an EV mechanical engineer, says his goal is to produce more than jealous technocrats: At a time when AI competition has never been more intense, Monarch is open-sourcing its software, giving its crown jewels away to farmers for free.

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