Food is one of our most basic needs and is integral to our day-to-day lives, but we typically don’t think much about where it comes from or its impact on the planet. With over seven billion mouths to feed daily, we produce more food now than ever before, but it’s not necessarily healthy for the planet. Farming of crops contributes to air pollution, water contamination, and soil degradation. Plus, we make more food than we need, so tons of food is sent to landfills before it’s ever consumed, accounting for over $162 billion of waste annually. Of all the greenhouse gases made in the food production process, nearly 60% come from the meat industry. While we need food to keep our bodies healthy, these new approaches are being developed to keep the planet healthy in the process.
Agricultural (AgriTech) Technology Disruption
With the advent of big data, we’re starting to bring statistics to the field, literally. Massive amounts of data can be mined from soil, plants, water, and chemical usage. Traditionally, a crop or field has been viewed as a monolith, with every acre getting the same treatment. With precise data, especially from IoT devices, farmers learn that not every square inch is equal, and these differences need to be considered. By understanding the specific needs of the land, these companies are helping us be more thoughtful about what resources we put where, lowering water and chemical usage to only areas truly in need.
Iron Ox: Iron Ox is hoping our robot overlords will feed us too. They’ve developed tech-forward greenhouses that use robotics for precision agriculture. Using AI, their robots ensure each plant gets exactly the right amount of sunshine, water, and nutrients. They claim to use 90% less water than field farms, 75% less energy than vertical farms, and 15 times less land. By strategically placing their farms, they bring their produce straight to the grocer on shorter supply chains, reducing food waste and emissions.
Monarch Tractor: Monarch is looking to become the Tesla of tractors offering fully electric, driver-optional tractors. Not only is the tractor eco-friendly, but it’s also smart too. Using computer vision, the tractors automatically track vast amounts of field and crop data as it performs tasks creating rich data analysis straight from the source.
Greeneye Technology: Looking to save the planet and pocketbooks, Greeneye has created a plug-and-play selective sprayer for pesticides and herbicides. This selective spraying allows farmers to save money on chemicals while also reducing the environmental impact of growing healthy crops. They claim their computer vision can easily identify crops from weeds and reduce up to 90% of herbicide use.
Innovative Solutions to Food Waste
According to the USDA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted. This can be produce that never reaches the market due to spoilage, ‘ugly’ food that isn’t deemed sellable, poor inventory management, and table scraps in the home and restaurants. Applying concepts like just-in-time (JIT) management and data analytics allows grocers, restaurants, and consumers to help curb waste and ensure we’re only producing and buying what we need. These companies are working hard to keep food in our bellies and out of landfills.
Leanpath: A Certified B Corp, Leanpath is looking to tackle food waste in restaurants and kitchens worldwide. Their food waste tracking system tracks waste in the kitchen and monitors plate waste from half-eaten meals. By empowering front-line food service workers, they hope to coach people into better habits and provide visibility to the amount of food and money wasted at eateries.
Olio: More than 50% of food waste happens in the home, but Olio is looking to curb that. By allowing users to take pictures of food they’re about to throw out, Olio connects neighbors and local businesses to share the food before it goes bad. According to Olio, half of the food added to the app is requested within 21 minutes of posting. While the company is UK-based, they’ve expanded to the Bay Area and look to keep growing.
Wasteless: Ever wish you could save money by picking the chicken that’s about to expire because you know you’ll cook it tomorrow? Well, with Wasteless, that’s the goal. Through AI and integrations with inventory systems, Wasteless dynamically prices foods based on sell-by dates. They supply smart display tags that automatically update with dynamic pricing, so customers are encouraged to buy the food that needs to move fastest. For example, the tag could say milk expiring on March 15 is $2.50, but the gallons expiring on March 10 are $2.00. This saves money for customers, increases revenue for sellers, and helps keep food from being needlessly thrown out.
Accelerating Innovation of Alternative Meat
The carnivore vs. herbivore debate is hot, and while the traditional meat industry has taken strides to reduce its impact on the planet, some people are thinking bigger – instead of improving an outdated system, let’s reinvent the system from the ground up. Meat alternatives have been around for decades, with products like Tofurky, Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods becoming household names. But for those of us who like a nice juicy steak, unfortunately, tofu and pea protein just don’t cut it. That’s why these companies are looking to grow meat in the lab without the need for live animals.
Nature’s Fynd: Nature’s Fynd has created Fy, a fungal fermentation-based dairy and meat alternative. Grown from the mycelium (think of this as the roots of fungi) of Fusarium strain flavolapis and put through an innovative fermentation process, the protein is transformed into tasty foods like dairy-free cream cheese and breakfast patties. Because of its unique growing process, it can be grown without land, close to the buyer, and without much water, cutting down on the environmental impact of production. Plus, it’s a complete protein which means it contains all nine essential amino acids making it an excellent alternative to traditional vegan options.
Wildtype: Get your chopsticks and wasabi ready because lab-grown salmon is coming. Wildtype focuses on making sushi-grade salmon without fishing, mercury, or microplastics. Not only is Wildtype’s salmon better for our bodies, but it’s also better for our oceans. Demand for fish is at an all-time high, but supply is dwindling quickly. Starting with restaurants, Wildtype has partnered with Pokéworks to begin bringing their innovative fish to a poke bowl near you.
Eat Just: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? For Eat Just, it was the egg with Just Egg, a plant-based egg alternative. Now they’re conquering the chicken. Their Good Meat chicken isn’t plant-based; it’s lab-grown, so it tastes and feels like the real deal. They’ve been approved for sale in Singapore and are in the process of approval from the FDA for sale in the United States. Traditional and Wagyu beef are next on their bucket list.