Connected & Ready

Digitizing the farm, with Arama Kukutai

Episode Summary

Agriculture is one of the last great analog industries. However, current and long-term trends are driving a rapid acceleration of digitization in the farming sector. In this episode of Connected & Ready, Gemma is joined by Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner of Finistere Ventures. Hear Arama’s perspective on the shifting landscape of agriculture, the technology driving innovation, and the future of this historically resilient industry. For help making your supply chain more agile, connected, and resilient, request a live demo of Dynamics 365 today:

Episode Notes

Host Gemma Milne is joined by Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner of Finistere Ventures. They discuss current agricultural challenges, how tech is helping digitize farms, and what these changes mean for consumers.  

About Arama Kukutai  

Arama Kukutai has been an investor and entrepreneur in agribusiness for more than 20 years. During that time he has served as Executive Chairman of PKW Farms, led the New Zealand Trade & Investment Agency, and been an active speaker, writer, and thought leader. In 2006, Arama co-founded Finistere Ventures, a pioneering venture capital firm dedicated to agricultural technology.  

Learn more about Arama Kukutai:  

Learn more about Finistere Ventures:  

Topics of discussion  

Today’s agricultural challenges (01:45)  

Farming technology’s tipping point (09:30)  

What shifting supply chains mean for farmers (15:40)  

Lessons from agriculture’s resilience (20:41)  

Farming technology today and tomorrow (23:53)  

Sponsor link  

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Episode Transcription

Music playing [00:00:01]

Gemma [00:00:05] Hello and welcome. You're listening to "Connected and Ready," an ongoing conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeed, brought to you by Microsoft. I'm Gemma Milne. I'm a technology journalist and author. And I'm going to be exploring trends around how companies are adapting to a disrupted world and preparing for tomorrow. We're going to speak to the innovators who are bringing products, operations and people together in new ways. 

[00:00:32] In today's Episode, we're chatting food supply chains and resiliency. What's happening? What's ahead? And the role of technology. Joining me for this is Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner at ag-tech investment firm Finistere Ventures. We talked about what broken supply chain really means in terms of the current agricultural challenges, how farmers are using tech to digitize their farms, and what leaders and businesses in all sectors can learn from the resiliency of the agricultural sector. 

[00:01:06] Arama, thank you so much for joining us on the show. I would love if you could start by giving us a little background as to who you are. And tell us a little bit about the role Finistere Ventures plays in the food ecosystem. 

Arama [00:01:17] Thanks, Gemma. I'm a New Zealander originally, but now a resident in Southern California for about the last 14 years where I run a venture capital. So, innovation and investment firm, focused on pretty early stage through growth stage companies in the ag and food technology sectors. So we're really focused on improving our chances of how to feed a growing planet, doing that sustainably, and improving the nutrition and health outcomes from our food system. 

Gemma [00:01:45] So what we've been hearing a lot in the news over the last couple of years, at least, this idea of broken food supply chains. I wonder if you could tell us what does that really mean? 

Arama [00:01:57] We have an industry that is fundamental to human progress. One of the things that we believe is that you don't really get to have a developed economy or society without the ability to feed yourself. And in that sense, you know, food is really almost as fundamental as, say, energy. And it's an incredibly diverse sector from a standpoint of the types of agriculture we have, you know, in the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to desert-climate agriculture in places like Israel to pastoral economies like the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, and of course, the massive row crop production of Latin America, the Ukraine and, of course, the midwest of the United States. This is a $13 trillion industry globally every year in terms of GDP. And just in the US alone, more than two and a half million farmers. From a supply chain standpoint, it's actually incredibly complex. But actually, historically, it's been really resilient—its ability to provide food to us reliably around the world and to feed a growing planet that now has what's on the track to 10 billion people by 2050, from a point where it was two billion in 1900. That's pretty incredible growth that's had to be supported by the farming sector. But, of course, with that growth has come a lot of pressure. The climate impact has all become sort of unprecedented challenges. And then here we are in the middle of the COVID pandemic, which threatens even the ability to get outside and farm, to process food. We've seen plants shuttering, for example, here in the US due to COVID infection of people inside a factory setting. Despite all of that, here, we still all are getting our food from our local grocery and sometimes dropped off from a local restaurant with this sort of business and other new ways of getting food to us. But there's no question it's an unprecedented set of challenges that, from farm to fork, you know, we face here in the world. And certainly the food system has been put under a lot of pressure as a result. 

Gemma [00:03:55] Let's start with the farmer. You talked about farm to fork. So let's start off that chain. What would you say are the biggest challenges that are facing farmers, you know, both right now during the coronavirus pandemic, but also before that…there were already a lot of challenges farmers were facing. Tell us a little bit about that. 

Arama [00:04:12] If we think about farming really, in a way, in two different worlds, the developed world and the developing world, the developed-world farmer has some of the same but also different challenges than developing country farmers do. Just to illustrate, if you look at somewhere like India, which has the world's largest cow herd, the average farm has like two cows and there's a hundred million of them. Where I grew up in New Zealand, the typical dairy free-range farm there is milking somewhere between six hundred and eight hundred cows with a small handful of people and a lot of automation. I guess those things run with different challenges. Some of the common challenges I mentioned, of course, are climate. This is a huge one for everybody. You know, the food systems we have in the world have really been developed over decades, in some cases centuries, to grow certain crops in certain locations, to have certain livestock in other locations. Where the weather system gets messed up, for example, we have droughts, so we have floods. This poses huge challenges for either kind of farmer. I think the other sort of fundamental issue is that the consumer's desires and wants are changing. So we're seeing this movement from packaged and preserved to fresh and actually managing fresh supply chains is very different from managing frozen or packaged goods. You know, the farmers that can respond well and give consumers in the market what they want are being rewarded. But there’s a transition cost to all of us that's putting a lot of pressure on the farm system. And one of the ways it's manifesting itself is, is actually that it's becoming harder and harder for farmers to make an economic return. You've probably noticed there's quite a debate about how is our food too cheap? You know, post-World War II, huge focus on production, on supply chain, on packaged goods, long shelf lives. And all of this has made food cheaper, but not necessarily better. That's putting a strain on the farm system as a whole, and technology is helping them address [it]. But this is really one of the world's last great analog industries. And so it's going through all these changes. Climate change, for example. But it's also going through technological change. And it's been put under a lot of pressure in terms of profit. 

Gemma [00:06:20] It seems to me that there [are] almost two big shifts that you're touching on here. One being the technological shift, which, of course, I want to get into. But second, there also being this, I guess, the public understanding that there's a value shift required in order for the farming industry to actually not just be better, be healthier, but, you know, fundamentally be able to operate into the future and be sustainable—both in terms of the planet but also just simply in terms of getting the numbers and being able to feed people. So it seems like both tech as well as value pressure from all different angles is putting a lot of pressure on the whole system. And I wondered if you could tell me a little bit about what have you seen already? We'll go into the future in a minute. What have you been seeing already in terms of how farmers in the supply chain as a whole [are] trying to adapt to these two huge shifts? 

Arama [00:07:12] I think over the last 20 years, for example, with movements like organic food production, really as a proxy for consumers saying, I want to know that my food has been produced responsibly, I think have been so…the early movement points towards consumers saying I want more transparency in terms of what it is I'm eating and I want some, I guess, proxies that I can trust, organics being one of them. And there are many others now beginning to emerge. Likewise, globally, and we've seen the rise of things like farmers markets, the local food movement as well, too. And that sort of has gone through to the food service and restaurant industry as well as into retail. If you go into a large store here in California, wearing your mask, of course now, they look to buy'll see a lot of them that are marked local. Again, there's a perception that shortening the supply chain towards local producers provides you with a product that's fresher, maybe healthier, but you're also supporting local farming and local industry. So those trends have really already been in place for some time and have been building. And I think what you're seeing with technology and innovation is also other ways of producing our food that are completely novel. That really would have seemed like science fiction even five years ago. Who really thought you could produce meat without animals? But I'm not talking about plant-based proteins, but actually making actual meat using cellular-based agriculture or indoor growing systems, producing fresh leafy greens, fruits and vegetables without using the soil or the sun. So the far edge of innovation, what seemed like pretty far out technology five years ago, all these pressures and challenges that we're facing, people are pretty ingenious at finding new solutions. And that's what we're seeing start to come through with the technology-investment side. On the farm side, we're also seeing our farmers getting tools from things like satellite imagery, to find-based applications that give them guidance on best management practices of managing their farm, to smart farm equipment. So, yeah, innovation is not new to the farm sector, but I think some of the innovations we're now seeing are really transforming what even food and agriculture might look like over the course of the next decade. 

Gemma [00:09:30] It's interesting because you say here about, you know, there's a lot of innovation that has existed for a long time and, you know, farming and the food industry as a whole has already been using technology in many interesting ways, has been very aware of the fact that technology can massively enhance the industry as a whole. However, as you also said, and as you well know, [it] is also one of the final, shall we say, analog industries. This still has a way to go in terms of being considered tech-leading. So what is it that's, I suppose, still missing? And I know it's different depending on culture, depending on country, depending on type of farmer. But, you know, broad strokes here. Tell us a little bit about what is it that’s missing. 

Arama [00:10:10] So I think one of the things that is important to recognize, it's more of a demographic question, is that farmers, especially in developed countries, are aging. So the average age of farmers has really been going up since 1970 every year. And in some countries, you know, Japan would be an interesting example, has farmers that are past retirement age in most places as the average age. So there's been a demographic challenge with technology adoption. But what we're seeing is that as farming becomes perceived more as a knowledge-based industry, as a technology-driven industry, it’s attracting new talent. And I think there's a tipping point being reached here as well, too, especially in one critical area: digitization of the farm. So here in the US and Europe and Australasia, for example, it's pretty common now for farmers to have a satellite digital map of their farm. Have the fields laid out digitally, the boundaries kind of well-known and enunciated. For example, I can get a satellite image every day that will tell me whether or not my field is under drought stress, using hyperspectral and video imaging. So just that ability on my phone to take a look at what's going on on my farm, and to have that app send me alerts, it might be that I've got irrigation issues and I need to turn an irrigator on and it’ll pop-up and say go and turn on the irrigator. And in fact now I can even have an app that actually for some of these will automate that process. So instead of sending myself or a farm worker out to turn it on, hit the button—boom, it turns on. So we're seeing this transformation, first gradually with…all the normal adoption challenges that you face with new technology. You always have early adopters and laggards. We have that in every industry, it's true in farming, too. And I think demographics makes it a little more challenging. But I think we're reaching a tipping point where the ubiquity of smartphones... I mean, every farmer has a smartphone now. In fact, smartphone penetration is higher in the farming population in the US than it is in the general population. So you can assume everyone's got one. And that ability to push inexpensive tools and apps to you to actually help manage and automate processes on the farm to have better information, intelligence…so it's not just, hey, the father or the mother have passed on knowledge and information to the kids, but information has been captured, codified, analyzed, and put into systems that can actually help the average farmer be a better farmer. The better farmer would be a great farmer and maybe a great farmer would be an epic one, you know, so everybody moves up into the right…in terms of productivity, using tech. So we're seeing that start to really embed. And I would think in the next 10 years, farming is going to be highly digitized. 

Gemma [00:12:48] So Arama, I wonder if you could give us a sort of human example of this farm-to-fork tech digitization idea. 

Arama [00:12:55] For sure. I mean, so if we think about the end-farm production side, we have a great example, I think, of what's going on with really changing that track and trace of grain farming. So we have, you know, this is the biggest area of total acreage: corn, soy, canola, wheat, which are, in the industry, often referred to as stored agricultural products because they have long lives as opposed to things like produce that are highly perishable. So there are technologies now that are enabling the farmer when they sell their grain to, let's say, a local co-operative or elevator, which allows them to record exactly how much has been picked up digitally from their farm by the local truck or co-op coming in, track it all the way through to the elevator where it's then loaded up, and then have an accounting sort of resolution back to them electronically. All of this used to be paper-based and capable of having errors introduced into it. And it doesn't sound like maybe that big of a deal, but when you're literally producing thousands and thousands of acres of these grains and truckload after truckload going out through harvest, having that sort of digital record is pretty important. And then actually, we're an investor in a company called TeleSense that is then doing IoT monitoring of those elevators. So what's the quality of the product in there… How much moisture is in there…

[00:14:20] And also at an enterprise level, which products are older and should therefore be sold first or moved out and managed first from a logistic standpoint… So all of this used to be handled and kind of paper-based, or disconnected record keeping. And it's now becoming sort of a digitized, linked-up [unintelligible]. And the farmer can go on there on their app and see exactly in their co-op what's been picked up, what's been delivered, what's still in storage, what's been sold, and kind of get a complete picture in real time of what's going on on their farm. 

[00:14:51] And this will make a convert even of kind of tech-resistant farmers who maybe aren't…basically don’t consider themselves the most tech-savvy in the world because this information is the lifeblood of their business, and it's giving it to them in basically a very low-cost form in real-time on their phone. 

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Gemma [00:15:36] Talking a little bit about this idea of digitization, I mean, one of the things that the coronavirus pandemic, I think, has really pushed is, in a lot of industries, the adoption of technology that was maybe happening a little bit slow and everyone kind of knew it needed to happen, and it's amped up this adoption and this quick shift to make sure that businesses can just simply survive. From your perspective, have you seen a similar sort of shift in the farming industry where, you know, coronavirus has prompted this digital revolution, shall we say, to move even faster? 

Arama [00:16:08] Absolutely. Yeah, especially certain types of farming, like high-value produce—fruits and vegetables—which you can't use a corn combine harvester to harvest those crops. They're very manual and intensive. Picking strawberries, harvesting lettuce, picking tomatoes out of a greenhouse. So we're seeing and we have seen for some years now kind of a steady uptick in investment into areas like automation and robotics for these specialty crops, because in addition to rising labor costs or restrictions on migrant labor, for example, here in the US, we're now also seeing, of course, that you just can't have a group of people that are field-picking shoulder to shoulder any more than you can't have them side by side in a meat packing facility, for example. So automation is clearly a winner in this regard in terms of investment. And it's doing the things that actually automation should do, right, like remove backbreaking tasks, but also, you know, remove tasks that are unsafe for people to do. That's not just in the field. We're seeing that, of course, right with micro-fulfillment and side-supply chains inside grocery warehousing. So robotics automation for pick and pack is quite an amp up in terms of investment activity and adoption that's been given a tailwind. So that ripple effect is right across the supply chain, obviously at the farm, sort of in particular the labor end of that. But all the way through to the retail point, consumer point, where food ends for us at home these days.

Gemma [00:17:32] One of the things I've also been noticing, you know, you mentioned shifts in terms of people cooking more. I think there's also been a lot of shift in terms of people understanding where food comes from and understanding the supply chain a lot more, because it's…how it doesn't work has been laid bare in so many ways, particularly when we had the sort of panic buying. And there's been a lot of, you know, more local businesses bringing good food that was normally going straight to restaurants, straight to consumers. It's the kind of operational, and I know you don't like…from my own experience, I'm now kind of thinking, Oh, I want to keep getting this fresher, better quality food. And I know exactly where it's coming from. So I'm curious, how do you think, you know, can technology play a role in ensuring that we can keep not only fulfilling that desire, but also, you know, there's lots of discussions around traceability and block chain and all these kind of technologies. So talk to me a little bit about that

Arama [00:18:24] Yeah, no, absolutely. I think, you know, the issue of traceability is not a new idea, but there continue to be many technology layers being constructed that will help, whether it's payment…payment and performance systems, you know, create an electronic data point that you can track, whether you're a retailer or you're a delivery firm or you're a food producer. So that flows two-way, right. You're getting more information collected and analyzed about what it is consumers are responding to. And so that extra, I think, is a positive in terms of shortening, if you like, that feedback loop. A great example, by the way, that I think has been supercharged by the lockdown situation and also around questions of what's going on in our food chain is the move to plant-based diets. So there are a number of drivers for that. Some are economic- and supply-based. If you're shuttering meat plants, price of meat proteins goes up, up, up as it is over here and over there too at the moment. And that's giving people economic, as well as maybe other, reasons that were already there to try plant-based alternatives. And that has a ripple-through effect to the farms. So…I didn't know that many farmers growing pea protein, or growing peas for protein, but past, you know, the Impossible Burger, BeyondMeat, Ripple and milk, and others, there's a whole host of companies that are using pea, soy proteins as replacements for meat. But consumers are also saying, I want to know where my food [has] come from. The technology exists to do a better job from retail all the way through the farm of telling me what happened to my food. And then you have categories like cellular agriculture and plant-based protein that are actually redefining and reinventing what food actually looks like. So we're seeing a boom, for example, of an alt-dairy that is dairy-like, whether, you know, whether it's almond milks and products that we've seen for a while, but new ones like those based on oats. You've got companies like Perfect Day that are using recombinant fermentation methods to make dairy products. So these technology changes are occurring in a number of ways, both in terms of the basic product itself, but to your point, consumers want to know where the food came from and the tools exist informationally for us to be able to do that, much more than ever before. 

[00:20:37] You're seeing that ripple through already into retail in particular. 

Gemma [00:20:41] You mentioned earlier on about the food industry and the farming industry being, over the decades and centuries that it has existed, very, very resilient. And one of the things that we talk about a lot on this Microsoft podcast is around resiliency of businesses, but also [how] technology can really affect businesses and how they can learn from resilient industries and companies. So I'm curious, what would you see other businesses or people in other businesses can learn from the agriculture industry in terms of its resilience?

Arama [00:21:12] That's a great question. I think one of the reasons why agriculture has been quite resilient is that it's really very distributed. You know, so when you think about other industries that have high concentration of capital and even geographical physical locations where like, like in many areas of manufacturing, where you've got scale benefits of getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And that leads to greater scale economics, but also less resiliency because if one of those facilities fails that has a much bigger knock-on effect. So I think agriculture's done this historically because it's land-based, has always been quite distributed. And, of course, you know, it's the last industry left manufacturing outside, the way that can impact what you can and can't do. Coming from a farming background myself, I think one of the great lessons that farmers can convey to other industries is that ability to be nimble and to make decisions quickly based on real-time information to change and pivot their businesses. We've seen this for some time, right, in terms of what crop do I grow this year? What's in demand, you know, and what can I forward-sell? That's always been there. And farming has been for a long, long time. But I think what we're now also seeing is rapid adoption of new technology. So what has been quite maybe conservative and slow to change industry, that's changing very quickly. And I think that's central to the survival, back to what we said at the very start of this conversation, around the ability to be profitable and sustainable. They're both important. The best farmers are rapidly trying and testing out new technologies, new enabling technology, like even things like cloud storage is… you might think, what the heck has that got to do with farming? But the reality actually is, is that farming generates enormous datasets. They've got to be stored somewhere. They've got to be accessible. And then there's a huge amount of information to analyze. So it's not just the farmer going, hmm, let me take a look at what I've done the last 40 years and just keep doing it on the 41st year, but now starting to get exposed to new sources of information that you can analyze cost-effectively. Again, back to my comment about mobile phones, applications, but also the analytics and the cloud. These are things that perhaps even five years ago would have seemed a real stretch for farming but have been adopted very, very quickly. So change or perish is sort of a common thread in farming, and it always has been. You're very exposed to and often isolated when you think about being out on these tens of thousands of acres and these very large expanses of land here in the US. You know, these communities have always had to be very self-reliant and resilient just to make sure they survive. And I think that technology is helping them keep in front of the curve here. 

Gemma [00:23:49] I want to focus back on technology, as well, in terms of the advice and the learnings, because, you know, particularly when it comes to supply chain… in terms of leaders and industries, all kinds of industries that all rely on supply chains, where do you think they should be focusing right now in terms of technology? In terms the emerging trends that you're seeing? What should leaders and businesses take note of and start investigating and maybe even investing in? 

Arama [00:24:15] I guess, as a group that's been investing for like 15 years in food and ag technologies, we've seen a lot of change. And clearly, one common thread that I think has driven change in just about every industry you can think of is the low cost and wide availability of data. And so on farming, being able to collect visual imagery from satellites, from drones, from aircraft. IoT devices, telling us microclimates and weather. Sensor devices telling us composition of soil. Smart automation on farm equipment, telling us where every input is going. Track and trace, did we put sprays or pesticides or chemicals on this food? Was it organic or not? How do we certify that? All these layers and layers and layers of data that are being aggregated, analyzed, and used to both farm better, and we haven’t talked as much on this so far about sustainability, but that's also been an incredibly important thread that I think has always been there, frankly. All farmers I know see themselves as stewards of land, and many of them are intergenerational in terms of family ownership. So they have a very long-term perspective on the importance of the land that they're on. But they're faced now with fresh—both regulatory compliance as well as consumer—challenges, saying, you know what, farming has actually got some aspects to its business that are not great. You know, the amount of water that's used inefficiently. The greenhouse gas emissions coming off farming as well as, you know, some of the things we've talked about, the ability to verify how food was produced and how safe it is. So all of these factors, these pressures, that are coming on to farming are requiring technological leadership and change both from people developing new technologies, but also persuading the farmer, he or she who is in business, as well, to adopt these technologies, to use them, and to show them how they can make their businesses more profitable and sustainable. And I'm pretty optimistic about the level and pace of change that's occurring in an industry that historically has been slow to change. We're seeing, just maybe one final point on this, we're seeing also that farmers are recognizing there are quite significant forces of change at work and they have to respond. And one of the few really big levers they have available to them is new technology. They can't pick up and move their farms generally. So you can't change the climate you're in. But maybe what you can do if you're experiencing climate change is use technology solutions to try to help you combat the effects. 

Gemma [00:26:39] You spoke about how farmers are using daytime technology and insights and whatnot to better understand what's going on in their farm. What does it look like from a sort of visualization dashboard's perspective? What are farmers using? 

Arama [00:26:54] There's now a host of different applications farmers can get access to that will give them kind of a dashboard visualization, but also will often prompt key tasks in enterprise solutions. You can also now see what people are doing on your farm. So there's a Brazilian company called Selimf Tech that monitors the performance of the farm equipment. Is the person driving it driving too fast down the field? Are they driving safely or dangerously? Do they do too many turns around the field? What's the equipment maintenance period? So these are already not particularly sexy, but really pretty important things to know, running the farm sort of efficiently and responsibly and safely for people. So there's really not any layer now that doesn't have some sort of digital product associated with it. One of the challenges is sort of aggregating it all up into a useful kind of VM or dashboard type form because there's many different aspects to running a farm. But even there we're starting to see, you know, the technology evolve and kind of net better together or be more integrated. 

Gemma [00:27:52] It sounds like what you're saying, it's not just a case of visualizing data that's being gathered, but rather there's a bit of an opportunity to aggregate lots of different bits of data together to get this much more, I guess, broader view of what's going on. Is that a fair assumption? 

Arama [00:28:07] It is. Look, I think you have to think of this in terms of maturity. So digitization on farms using IoT devices, satellite apps that are aggregating massive amounts of information, even AI applications, are still relatively young and evolving. So even down to things like creating open standards across everything from hardware through to the biology. So these are also systems that have not just equipment and people, but also have living organisms, you know, plants and animals in them. And so depending on what sort of level of granularity you want to get into, there are potentially incredibly massive amounts of data that are available. So some of what we're seeing is an evolution towards providing more of a true dashboard view where the information is aggregated. The example I would kind of use is like if you go in to see a doctor and they gave you an EKG and you looked at it and tried to make sense of what it meant for you, you probably wouldn't come up with a very good answer unless you're a medical expert. But if they give you an application saying we've given you your checkup and things are generally pretty healthy, or over here, you need to watch your diet…that sort of level of granularity is kind of what farmers are generally looking for. It’s, what's the action I can take as a result of all this data, how do I turn that into action. And I think that's still evolving. You know, the doctor equivalent in that story on a farm is the agronomist. Most farms will have some sort of production advisor or technical expert that's helping them interpret all this information. The other human in the loop and getting perhaps all the really detailed, granular info and saying, OK, well, when I compare this to what the dashboard is telling me, I generally agree or I don't agree. So we see a lot of that in the field still, you know. There's still a lot…there's still room for a lot of human experience and insight and judgment, but we're getting much more granular information to inform those judgments than we've ever had before. 

Gemma [00:29:53] Do you see there’s an opportunity for low-code development, particularly when we're talking about there's so many different kinds of data, digitization, information, insights that we can work with. But also there's so many different kinds of farmers, different kinds of farms, different ages, and all sorts. So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about low code. 

Arama [00:30:13] I think we're seeing that sort of manifest itself in terms of the types of tools available to farmers, for example, and automating workflow and process where they've got tools that enable them to look at, for example, things like labor allocation, sort of super technical areas like soil agronomy with a science and so forth that are truly, deeply technical. Certainly in the last five to six years, we've seen an explosion of both application-based development, and you touched on this point about there being many different types of farming. If you just think about a big bucket level from major road cropping through the high value vegetable seed and fruit horticulture, through the animal husbandry, even through the pasture and free-range systems, let alone desert agriculture, monsoonal rice production—it's incredibly diverse. So even as an expert in this area, I couldn't begin to tell you that I know every single application that's being developed out there. No one does. But what we can definitely say is that the quantum of investment: more than 20 billion in the last 10 years in venture capital alone that's flowed into the egg and actually more than 40, if you include food in it as well—so the entire supply chain that's produced, you know, a plethora of companies, I would say probably more than 8,000 startups across, you know, the sort of digital and food domain. It's an incredibly robust, vibrant sector in that sense. 

Gemma [00:31:39] Sounds like there's a lot of opportunity then to get involved. Thank you so much for all of your really deep insights, actually. And, you know, it's a challenge sometimes to talk about the food industry in just half an hour because it's so broad, there's so much to say, it’s so interconnected. But at the same time, I think for me, anyway, that's been one of the biggest learnings over the last six months is how do we wrestle with systems better? How do we think about things as interconnected and build technology in a way that makes sense as a, you know, a rule within a larger system as opposed to just a solution to a single problem? 

Arama [00:32:10] Absolutely, Gemma. Yeah, and I think one final point I would say, too, is that agriculture has proved, and the food system generally has proved, actually pretty adept at monetizing innovation from other sectors. So we didn't invent GPS but it’s on pretty much every farm device. We didn't invent block chain or cloud storage or AI and analytics. But they're rapidly turning up. And likewise, we didn't invent the gene or trait modification or synthetic biology. So as a horizontal, it touches like, as you said, just about every sort of area of technology and society you can think of. Absorbing innovation from other sectors and rapidly putting them into an agricultural context, I think has been one of the most interesting things to watch over the last decade. And I think we'll continue to see much more of that in the years to come. 

Gemma [00:33:0] Yeah, for anyone listening who is not already following the future of farming pretty closely, I highly recommend getting involved as one of my favorite areas of innovation. Arama, thank you so much for joining us on the show. 

Arama [00:33:10] Yeah. Most welcome then. Thanks for having me. 

Gemma [00:33:15] That's it for this week. Thank you so much for tuning in. You can find out more about Arama's work and indeed some of the broader themes we discussed today in the show notes. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast and tune in next time to continue our conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeed. 

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