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Greetings from Silicon Valley

Everybody engaged in software development or in general interested in the role of ICT in agriculture keeps an eye on Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is world class in finding and upscaling new business models with IT solutions: Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb are just some of the examples. The upscaling is mainly the role of the venture capital industry that works in symbiosis with the IT industry. They focus on disruptive solutions for global food and nutrition security, where European projects are more focused on application of IT in current supply chains.

IT essential for food and nutrition security

In FarmDigital, an action research programme for easier data sharing in agriculture and horticulture, we are not an exception in looking up to California and finding inspiration in some of the software development and business models that are successful there. Against this background I accepted an invitation to speak and share ideas earlier this month at the 2016AgTech Conference in Mountain View, California. In a panel discussion we were asked to discuss the way forward for the digital agenda in agriculture at a global level. How could IT (the Americans don’t use the abbreviation ICT) contribute to solving the issue of global food and nutrition security in an era of climate change? Americans don’t think small.

Venture capitalists are not interested in traditional farm management solutions

The conference taught me that there is interesting work going on in the Valley. But the big question is impact: How to connect IT to the current supply chains? In this conference, which links IT start-ups to venture capitalists, many presented solutions aim to have a disruptive character. Some deal with food delivery, many with urban farming based on hydroponics and there was even a project developer working on a housing project where people will be living around a more or less self-sufficient farm instead of a golf course. Venture capitalists seem to be less interested in more traditional farm management solutions, but some were presented. Mostly for typical Californian industries like fruit and vegetables. Somebody compared the Californian model of funding many start-ups on disruptive solutions in the hope that one becomes very big as a modern-style Gold-rush, the craze that populated California.

New linkages are essential

With the panel we concluded that it would be beneficial for the IT strategies of food chains and countries to have a better connection between the work in Silicon Valley and the current supply chains, and with the machinery industry (the OEMs – Original Equipment Manufacturers) that partners more with the sensor industry and the telecom industry.

Europe is not disruptive, we create impact

It seemed to me that in the Future Internet programme of the EU and in the Dutch Public-Private Partnership programmes like FarmDigital we are perhaps not so disruptive with totally new farming concepts, but we are doing excellent work to innovate and renew existing supply chains. We pay more attention to standardisation and eco-systems of apps. As in the case of FarmDigital, where we look to the interaction between farm management systems, data exchange in e.g. EDI-Circle, the algorithms in AgriPlace to manage the overlap in data needs of different compliance systems and the needs of  different users like farmers, auditors and food companies or importers.

World-class projects

I am probably biased by being only one day at a typical conference for start-ups and venture capitalists and of course reading some relevant reports. But for the moment I think that we are doing world-class projects, including FarmDigital. That is a nice position to build up a role for the Netherlands in digital innovation in supply chains and in global data management. A position that could be further strengthened by teaming up with the more disruptive ideas and the venture capitalism of Silicon Valley, and that could help the global food and nutrition security.

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