The importance of agriculture means that it must have access to the best technology

  • Elliott Grant, PhD, is the CEO of Mineral, an Alphabet company.

In November at COP27, world leaders gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh and lamented the impact of agriculture on the world’s climate. Collectively, food production contributes about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Bold initiatives to reduce meat intake, protect biodiversity and sequester carbon in farmland have been announced.

But however worthwhile and serious these efforts may be, they ignore a hard truth. Climate change, supply disruptions and inflation, resistance to pests and diseases, regulatory requirements, outdated incentives, and new practices such as vegetation—all increase complexity and risk for farmers. The problem is not that farmers don’t care about the environment. In fact, I know they care a lot because it supports their livelihood, and farmland is often their greatest asset. The problem is that farmers don’t have enough tools to produce more, while using less, under increasingly difficult conditions.

If cultivation is so important, why not get the best technology?

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, center, and Under Secretary for Agricultural Production and Conservation Bill Northey, offer a drone tour of the ISU booth at the Farm Progress Show Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, near Boone, Iowa.

Despite the hype, private and public investment in agricultural technology is much lower than investments in other climate solutions, such as clean energy (for example, venture capital and private equity invested nearly 70 times more in clean technology than in agricultural technology in 2021). If we are serious about helping agribusiness transform and adapt, they need access to the latest technology and the best science, adapted to the daunting challenges of the global food system. Take data, for example. As an industry, agriculture remains one of the least digitized sectors, according to McKinsey & Co. This poses a profound problem in our efforts to address the wide-ranging challenges facing agriculture today.

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