Trend TWO from: Seven Weeks of Seven Trends in Sustainability Funding
May 12, 2015
Once again, I’m continuing my inaugural blog here on www.agweb.com with a series on the “Top Seven Trends in Food an Ag Sustainability and the Funders that Love Them.’ Feel free to email me for a copy of the report I did on this topic in the fall of 2014. A quick recap of the Seven Trends:
Trend 1: Sustainable Water Management Practices
Trend 2: Technology and Big Data
Trend 3: Corporate Responsibility: Animal Welfare, Organics, and Sourcing
Trend 4: Energy: Reduction, Conservation, and Generation
Trend 5: Waste Reduction and Sustainable Packaging
Trend 6: Sustainability Reporting, Organizations, and Indices
Trend 7: Government Programs and Actions
Trend 2- Technology and Big Data
The use of big data and technology management in agriculture is changing the way that farmers harvest, fertilize, and utilize resources. Ways to evaluate and pinpoint inefficiencies are now becoming easier to use and much more accessible to all farmers. From using mapping technology that analyzes soil type and fertility that will save pounds of fertilizer, to GPS systems and moisture probes that calculate and communicate water use in real time, we know advances in farm technology are saving money and time. Precision drones are increasingly being used to provide farmers with many visual, multispectral, and thermal imaging choices to decrease scouting time and better manage crop health. Biotech crops are also enhancing the ways in which farmers can save energy and reduce chemical use, providing positive environmental impacts. Robert T. Fraley, executive ice president and CTO for Monsanto Company, said “The farm tractor today has more computer power than the first spaceship that went to the moon.”
So, with all this opportunity literally flying around, is government grant funding flowing just as freely? For farmers, the short answer is no, but the longer answer is-it depends on who’s seeking the dollars and for what types of projects. The areas of defense, homeland security, and energy have literally seen billions going to grants and loan guarantees for some time. However, in terms of grants that farmers can use for deploying big data and technology in their operations, the options are sparse. For example, I’m not aware of grants to buy equipment such as drones or other GPS tools, yet if you are interested in research, demonstration, or developing a technology on your own-there may be programs for you including the Small Business Innovation and Research Grant (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR). I
typically don’t recommend visiting government funding websites unless you are seeking a cure for insomnia, but the new www.sbir.gov site, launched May 4 in honor of National Small Business Week, is actually aesthetically pleasing and fairly easy to navigate. According to the site, SBIR and STTR comprise the ‘largest small business seed fund on the planet.’ The site also directs viewers toward resources available locally to help navigate the grant application process, including access to Small Business Development Centers (check out https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc). These funds are federal dollars administered through the Small Business Administration or SBA. Take a look and see if there is an opportunity for your next innovation!
Up next week, stay tuned for a discussion of funding corporate social responsibility and what it means for agriculture. I welcome your comments and ideas! Please feel free to engage!
Sarah Beth Aubrey