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Farm Bots and Two-Month-Old Bread: Innovations in Food and Agriculture

An Energid robot, designed to harvest citrus
An Energid robot, designed to harvest citrusPhotograph by James England/Energid

Agriculture isn’t exactly an industry that conjures up images of robots toiling away in the field or high-tech sensors that identify crop-eating insects. “The image most people have of agriculture is Green Acres,” says Andrew M. Ziolkowski, a managing partner in Cultivian Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in technology companies specializing in the food and agricultural sectors. “It’s a huge industry and a lot of innovation goes into it.”

Agriculture, as any farmer knows, is much more complex than it seems. There’s an inexhaustible number of unpredictable events that have to be constantly monitored. The work is highly repetitive and, for a lot of tasks, manual labor is the only means of production, methods that haven’t changed in decades, or longer. Meanwhile, the planet’s population continues to outstrip our ability to produce enough food. In other words, the $500 billion agriculture industry is perfect for automation.