Data-Driven Farming Is Keeping Us All Well-Fed

Ronald Holden for Forbes:  Back in November, I wrote a post here on Forbes.com that described "Vertical Farming" as a promising method of increasing the supply of food in limited spaces. Financial backers included Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt. No word on any progress since then, though plenty of derision that sophisticated investors would think Seattle needed better access to fresh produce.

Meantime, a new development from a company called Freight Farms, which sells a high-teech, $85,000 shipping container called the Leafy Green Machine (LGM). It's outfitted like an upscale green house or home-garden potting shed (seed bench, crop-growing columns, irrigation systems, and so on). Just hook it up to a water source and plug it in.

The shipping container "farm" can be set up almost anywhere, and grows as much food as two acres of rural farmland. Proprietary software called Farmhand monitors the plants, controls irrigation, orders supplies, and so on. (In fact, Freight Farms says it's as much a software venture as a hardware company.) Now Freight Farms has acquired a rival startup called Cabbige which also checks inventory and provides marketing suggestions.

Who is the market, though, for the containers? Well, farm-to-table restaurants seem to be obvious candidates. A container out back would guarantee "fresh from the parking lot" produce. Schools and other institutions can share an LGM to provide healthier lunches. They work for food banks, too. An LGM can grow 50,000 heads of lettuce a year, or 150 lbs of romaine a week.

The elephant in the pea-patch (as it were)  is one of the biggest tech companies of all, Microsoft. MSFT got into data-driven farming almost three years ago. "We believe that data, coupled with the farmer’s knowledge and intuition about his or her farm, can help increase farm productivity, and also help reduce costs ," says a company spokesman.  Full Article:

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