That links to a company selling a retrofit system for 7500 Euro and no annual fees. That's super cheap compared to buying a new tractor and I hope they are successful. But...
My brother-in-law hobby farms a few hundred acres of corn and soybeans and built an autosteering system for his 1950s tractor. The only thing he bought new was an Arduino board to tie it all together. Everything else was used farming equipment and his total cost was less than $1000 (USD). He's not even a programmer, just an engineering degree from Flyover State U. He cobbled together open source software to make it work.
The traditional farmer is very resourceful. They aren't going to allow your company much margin if they can do even part of it themselves. Good luck to VC-backed firms.
Looking at the US News and World Report rankings, 5 of the top 12 schools might (depends how you count Pittsburgh and Austin and) qualify as "Flyover State U." There's a huge range of schools in flyover states, and there are some very well-regarded engineering schools there.
IME that's true at least int he midwest. Most people I've met who work in ag in the midwest did not attend Madison/Ann Arbor/UIUC/etc. They attended places like SIU-E, UW-Whitewater, Minnesota @ Rochester, Missouri @ Rolla, etc. Usually because those schools were like 1/2 of the price and closer to home.
And what parent said was also true -- those schools do teach lots of useful skills; if you're selling machines to farmers, your clients probably know more about mech.e than even most of you software engineers.
It reminds me of the myriad of products and services targeting bootstrapped/self-funded entrepreneurs, who also tend to be resourceful by nature.
1) graphics / games / vfx
2) energy / mining
Or does the "steer" in "auto-steer" refer to a bovine?
You program your desired path into the system and it uses GPS to follow the path, using a device that turns the steering wheel as necessary.
The farmer is still required to avoid unexpected obstacles, usually by stopping and moving the obstacle.
Farmers have been using GPS since the 1980s, long before the rest of the general public.
Many people would be amazed by what I have lying around in my basement. However, the LIDAR is gone: I only needed for a single project and I shipped it to the client.
The difference between a U graduate and a non-U software developer is in the experience (and mindset) of fixing a problem vs scaling the solution. I.e., fixing the meta-problem.
A scalable solution is the one that becomes permanent, what moves the needle of the market, and what gets written up in history books.
But, during COVID, I now think there actually is a strong case for large-scale vertical farming: robustness. It's a backstop against famine in case of long-tail events: "locusts", plagues that wipe out key crops, once-in-a-millenia systemic flooding, a super-volcano eruption, etc.
But it's not going to be profitable. It's going to be horrendously unprofitable. And it's not something we should be doing now; it's just something that we should be able to quickly start doing immediately in case of a catastrophic event, and at a scale large enough to get 1200-1500 calories to everyone each day.
In other words, the primary customer for vertical farming is government, not the private sector. Unless you can mass produce morels, as the author notes :)
In West Europe, Agriculture is done by Eastern Europeans who can work for few months and make some money that is uninspiring the West but life-changing in the East. Western youth would't touch it.
In Turkey it is done by people who escaped a war or tyranny : Syrians and Afghans. It makes sense for them because the alternative is worse but the Turkish youth would not touch it unless it's some kind of organic avocados hipster thing.
The Agriculture production is now cheap but unless everything gets robotised at the same pace(or faster) with the people leaving the business or the inequality in the world vanishes it can get real expensive real quick.
The vertical farming looks like an option before automatic drones produces us all the produce in a sense that no one ever seen a tomato field in life.
But as the author states, farming is massively automated and the efforts are still going on. So, maybe it's about lifestyle? Having a vertical farm in each garden could be desirable even if not efficient.
I used to be CEO of a venture backed agriculture startup, and we learned pretty quickly that the hacker mentality applies very well to supporting farmers. Internally, we talked about providing farmers something like an SDK for the automation tools we were selling, where they could mod it to their own situation. In most cases, skills from soldering to metal work to carpentry were not only realistic to expect, but complete shops with air tools, etc. were usually present and often complete machine shops with CNC and 3d printers.
There are interesting things going on in regenerative agriculture scene where the main idea is to produce new topsoil and through that make farming sustainable. Here is a nice lecture by Richard Perkins - who is one of the most famous regenartive agriculture advocate - explaining the principles of it in a lecture he kept in a food hackaton. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Knn7ZH4Tiw
I was hoping with improving technology, the minimum viable size of a farm can be brought down to something more culturally sensible. Even if existing technology in agriculture is as good as the author claims, access remains an issue.
Perhaps the real innovation we need right now is to make technology more affordable.
Additionally, monocultures tend to deplete soil nutrients, so need land management in the form of fertilizer, crop rotation, or lying fallow. The latter two are often combined.
These are (obviously, I hope) not insurmountable.
Could a hypothetical FarmPod3000™ exist at a reasonable scale? I mean, people built greenhouses before right? Could such a system be economically viable at the size of a shipping container? A family home? Staten Island?
To be clear, I don't think the FarmPod3000™ would disrupt 90M acres of corn farms - we actually eat <10% of that anyways.
We should factor in the +/- environmental & public health impacts of such a system to the viability calculation as well.
Soy use in Brazil: https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/soy
Trophic levels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophic_level#Biomass_transfer...
In his biography, Ashlee Vance describes how Musk built a knowledge base about rocket construction after his exit from Paypal. Both the "how to" and a first principles approach to the economics of it.
Musk knew the calculus that he could attempt to build rockets for far less than his competitors before he ever put a dime into SpaceX.
In contrast, vertical farming sounds more like the computer engineer equivalent of "I built a thing, isn't it shiny and cool" without understanding the industry, economics, or competitive landscape.
Vertical farming seems to be taking an ahistorical approach. With both both vertical farmers and VCs ignoring industry knowledge [0,1]
Sticking with Musk, he took an ahistorical appraoch to Tesla's Fremont factory with automation. He learned a very expensive and wasteful lesson that other auto manufacturers had known for decades.
Sometimes things change and the lesson everyone learned is no longer valid. Fools sometimes get lucky.
The bottleneck will always be cheap energy. However the industry will progress from non calorific high value foods like lettuce and leafy greens (they may be low calorific but have a lot of value in terms of nutrients etc. and are expensive) to stuff like cherry tomatoes, cucumber as renewable energy starts getting cheaper.
I still don't understand why we need to go to space. I know I'm going to get roasted here for saying this. And yes, I know that "space tech improves earth tech" -- cool, so let's just make better earth tech in the first place. Better farms, schools, transportation. We only have one earth.
"I built a thing, isn't it shiny and cool" -- sweet rocket Musk, what are you going to do with it? Study space worms? Let rich people travel in space? Build a mars colony (lolol). That's not going to happen on any meaningful scale. Put down the sci-fi and open your eyes. We need help, here, now.
## Letters of Note: Why Explore Space?
1. There is an unimaginable number of resources in space. Asteroid mining, if we crack it, would make space a far better place for manufacturing.
2. It was originally rich people flying on planes and sailing on boats. If it's technically possible and valuable, economics will optimise the cost away.
I think pushing limits of human achievement is important, but understand that we haven't even solved stupid obvious problems like feeding every child in this world. Think about that. There are hundreds of millions of children who don't eat. You want to talk about scale and talk about solving problems, think about all the minds that could be the geniuses that get us to mars. There is so much lost potential just because of malnourishment. Yes going to space will get us better manufacturing, but the potential of having entire generations that are well fed and thinking optimally, we could be squandering countless einsteins, simply because we are spending money trying to get to mars. I think that's what gets me about the way we spend money. Human output is random, and the people who change the world, it is random where they are born and so is their upbringing. We should be taking care of every single new born that enters this world because one of them, could change the world in unimaginable ways. Sorry I don't htink you asked for this comment, but your comment about why people traveled to new countries just sparked a thought dump. Sorry :)
Musk is serious about building a Mars colony. Of course if you dismiss the possibility offhand with a "lolol" then you won't agree with what he's doing. But personally I think it would be beneficial to have space colonies, and we eventually will have them in the far future if we don't blow ourselves up first, and accelerating the timeline for that is a fine thing to work on. SpaceX is not zero-sum with farming.
I agree we can invest and function better in other domains also. It's just not a choice we have to make; we easily have the bandwidth to do all of it.
And the practical benefit to space exploration or readiness is non-zero right now. Satellites, defense (from others but also celestial objects), climate science. The future hypotheticals, your "Sci fi", may one day be added to this list.
If you threw a bunch of money at just "try to replace common pieces of earth technology" I don't think you'd get much.
Having both specific problems to solve and new and difficult constraints spurs creativity in a way that just "how would I make a better fastener" wouldn't. It's too open-ended otherwise. What does "better" even mean there?
I'm sure you don't need GPS. Or care about researching the Climate. Or care fundamental research on physics. Or want to use the internet on planes. Or care about defense. Or ever use earth imaging made from satellites. Or care about people in disaster situations find a route to flee the region. ...
I had new vineyard planted two years ago. Big tractor with automatic planting station arrived and with GPS base station they were able to plan in around 2cm accuracy. There was no automatical steering, but whole machine and tractor shutted down when driver move out of mission plan. You can decide what is row spacing going to be, what space between plants are going to be and you are done.
What would take me week of manual labor took machine just 40 minutes (well kinda: one servo broke down and they had to call mechanic from Germany which took off two days of very expensive machine time in prime season).
Here you can see simmilar machine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC32JgiDxo4
Do you have any suggestions on what areas are good for innovation?
I also find myself at a complete loss for what technologies are actually out there, how they're used and what a typical farm looks like and how it operates. Even the data of "90M acres of corn, 85M acres of soybean, and 30M acres of wheat" is complete news to me.
What are some sources to get at this data, to get a feel for what this system looks like?
I know that the "global village construction set"  was marketed as trying trying to solve some of these issues but I'm not sure it really developed into anything actionable.
Keep up the good work, I'd like to see more writing. Do you have any suggestions on other blogs that talk about similar subject matter?
The only thing i agree with you on is genetic engineering. And that is not startup space really. That is like giant bio-tech companies breeding corn seeds in a lab. You need a phD for that shit you dont just build a startup that 'disrupts' seed genetics.
Farmers know what is in their fields, but prices are affected by fields on other continents which the farmer doesn't know. Any information the farmer can get but you cannot is to his advantage. (this applies to all farmers, they need to know what happens in Ukraine, Brazil, Australia... But they need you to not know)
I know that there's been some success in remote sensing of aquaculture at the academic level that's also demonstrated some promise with drones.
VERY familiar, lol.
If the incumbents keep acting like the backside of a donkey, a new generation of repairable farm machines would probably work but need a lot of capital and damn good relationships with local dealers.
I'd rather see SV help the industry keep its jobs and just create new machines. Like the drone that picks weeds (or just makes a map of all weeds in the field for someone to go pick). Perhaps a drone that scoops up bugs via vacuum attachment.
Whatever it is, I'm kinda just sick of SV starts that want to skim the top of some existing process.
hopefully this works for you
There are methods that increase soil and fertility over time
(Permaculture, Syntropic farming, regenerative agriculture) but they are
typically relatively labor intensive. China and India have made great
strides in recent times.
India's Water Revolution #2: The Biggest Permaculture Project on Earth! with the Paani Foundation
India's Water Revolution #3: From Poverty to Permaculture with DRCSC
Regreening the desert with John D. Liu https://youtu.be/IDgDWbQtlKI?t=82
> It all started in 1995 when Liu filmed the Loess-plateau in China. He
witnessed a local population who turned an area of almost the same size
as The Netherlands from a dry, exhausted wasteland into one green oasis.
This experience changed his life.
To me it seems that the two main areas to focus on to make a real
1) Make modern agriculture ecologically harmonious.
2) Make ecologically harmonious agriculture more automated.
Obviously these converge.
(My feeling is that we would be happier with lots of little
farms rather than a few large ones, but I'm not interested in debating
that particular point. I care about ecological harmony. Future
generations can work out the economic forms provided we don't crash the
system before then.)
EDIT: In your case, I cannot help to think about your colleges as very shiny, kitsch buildings.
I've heard it frequently in politics. (It's also an acceptable Scrabble word.) Pronounced the same way it is in the word agriculture.
Changing the term, "natural market dynamics" to "regulatory captured markets", we get:
> or by throwing so much investor money at undercutting incumbents that the [regulatory captured markets] are temporarily skewed
And, taking my sibling comment from @simonkafan, let's change his term "well-functioning industry" to "regulatory captured industry":
> I feel that SC startups are like a horde of locusts flying over a [regulatory captured industry], pretending to improve it positively but all they do is destroy the competition
Consider, for a second, Uber and Lyft. Was the taxi industry well functioning? Did it have natural market dynamics? Definitely, assuming you acknowledge the predicate that the industry players are effectively cartels who control regulations.
This makes me wonder what even would be a natural or desired state of any market like this. I don't want companies to have agreements on bottom prices they aren't gonna go under. At the same time this dynamic clearly is fueled by the desire and promise to turn a profit once the competitor is gone. We don't want to set a monopoly in any market. On the other hand why aren't we seeing this in older industries? Why aren't airlines trying to drive each other out of business on price?
I think for as much as people talk about businesses undercutting a market to capture it and then profiting from a monopoly position, very few businesses ever make it past the undercutting stage.
As wrong as the efficient market hypothesis is about certain things, a great many industries actually do exist in a sort of perpetual state of trying to balance capturing market share with low prices with staying profitable.
I’m not sure that it pays its drivers more poorly than the taxi industry, and I’m not sure that users overpay. Do note, though, that both of those points imply “healthy economics / markets” (dynamic pricing on both sides).
But that doesn't forgive using regulatory capture to prevent anyone else from benefiting from the same things that helped you, that's just pulling the ladder up after you.
Uber did fix the problem of people who would happily make money driving a taxi being unable to because of regulatory capture. They made much worse the problem of drivers making a living wage, and when the sugar rush finally ends and they ultimately have to raise prices you know that extra margin isn't going to go to make the drivers whole and bring their wages back up to what a taxi driver used to make. It's going to go into Uber's investors' pockets.
Although personally I think Uber will just go the way of WeWork once people realize they own (close to) zero vehicles, have (close to) zero employed drivers, and lose money on every ride. What happens after that? Well, public transit has been gutted already so I guess... um... scooters?
Uber and Lyft do not seem to be in favor of a well-functioning industry either. The main strategy of Uber seems to be spending money to get a monopoly in the market and then increase prices and become profitable. How is that a well-functioning industry?
We forget that SV business are business that want to earn money. Regulatory captured industries and markets are not the problem, the problem is that those business aren't in them.
VCs for the most part want a massive return on investment to fit their business model and won't settle for niche businesses that promise only reasonable profits, no matter how technically innovative they may be or what they might lead to down the road. On the other side housing prices are through the roof, so good luck affording a garage/basement to bootstrap something in unless you're already indoctrinated into the VC/FAANG culture and successful within it, in which case you're naturally bias towards perpetuating more of the same.
For this reason SV is a software-to-software-integration (not software in general IMO) innovation hub. Software scales easily, requires no physical property to build things on and can return massive profits. SV excels at building software to accelerate other software. Building software to accelerate physical situations or specific communities that don't exist in the valley requires expertise that must be acquired outside of the valley and doesn't thrive in the valley.
In ag terms SV is a monoculture of software-to-software integration solutions that generally doesn't play well with other crops, with all the efficiencies and drawbacks therein.
Agriculture is a hyper-competitive low-margin market, and I have never gotten the impression that this industry is stagnant or incompetent. Those are the areas where disruption by outsiders isn't going to work.
For instance, it is telling that you can drill deep into the earth, pump a liquid to the surface, process it, transport it a significant distance to an expensive port, pump it into giant floating tankers, sail those around the world, suck the payload back out and pipe it to additional processing plants, pipe it across a continent, refine it into relatively finished product, pipe it hundreds of more miles to a depot, pump it into tankers, transport it to underground tanks, then pump it back up to sell to customers. You can imagine how much a product would cost per gallon. Then, as a customer, walk inside to pay for the product you just pumped and snag a gallon of milk. Guess which gallon is more expensive?
Put the milk back on the shelf and drive to your neighbour's house. Walk around to the back porch where they sell their milk out of an old fridge. Um, no, they don't sell it. That would be illegal. They just happen to have a fridge full of milk that people keep stealing. But the thieves have a conscience. They keep stuffing money into the tin can next to the fridge.
Because in the U.S. it is legal to sell a product with a big label that says, "WARNING: THIS PRODUCT WILL KILL YOU." Unless that product is milk.
Plenty of people have figured out how to sell milk cheaper than gasoline. But they are restricted by regulation.
You may well agree with the protections those regulations provide. But it might also look to you like the same problem as taxi cartels.
Your link does not actually support your claim that 1 in 6 people who drink raw milk get sick from drinking the milk. If anything, it indicates that only 1 in 6 drinkers get sick at all. There doesn't seem to be a control group (or any real kind of science here), but if 1 in 3 people who don't drink raw milk get sick this might merit some follow-up studies. Perhaps raw milk lowers your risk of illness.
It would be silly to make a statement either way from the information contained in your link.
Around here, they're about the same. So I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.
Farming is constantly improving yields and optimizing. It might look stagnant to outsiders but it's a meat grinder.
In one of my college classes, all of the "business" majors looked down on the farm kid who'd show up to class with blood on his boots during hunting season.
Then he'd give presentation after presentation / example of how his farm is using GPS coordinated UAVs to survey the crops and drive the tractors, and all sorts of other technology deployments that the kids in boat shoes had zero comprehension of.
Taxis in Chicago had an app even before Uber and Lyft. I think it was called Halo, or something like that.
Looking now I could find a used New Holland combine from 2005 for $71000 USD. That money gets you a used 2000-ish Ferrari 360.
And the combine makes you more money after you buy it.