Tech investors plowing money into future farms

The booming activity around the so-called ag-tech sector has led experts to predict that its growth, in terms of the number of new startups and venture-capital investments, will in another five or so years outpace today’s hottest technologies. In the third quarter this year, venture capitalists and private-equity firms invested $269 million into 41 deals in agriculture and food startups, the highest dollar amount ever in that sector and double the amount invested during the third quarter last year, according to data from the Cleantech Group. Since 2009, investments into this sector have grown an average 63 percent every year. “It’s going to be bigger than cloud software, it’s going to be bigger than Big Data, because everybody eats,” said Paul Matteucci, a partner with U.S. Venture Partners and founder of Feeding 10 Billion, a nonprofit center to help ag-tech entrepreneurs. “And it’s going to be completely entrepreneur led.” Dozens of companies are creating technology to make farmland more productive and farming more efficient, using robots to trim lettuce or software to calculate grass production for cattle grazing. Others are tapping technology to find substitutes for meat, cheese and eggs, so less land is used to raise livestock, fewer greenhouse gas-spewing trucks are used to transport them, and fewer animals are subject to slaughter. Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app. By Heather Somerville <http://search.nwsource.com/search?searchtype=cq&sort=date&from=ST&byline=Heather%20Somerville> San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

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