While Thanksgiving is a national holiday, it hits particularly close to home for us in Massachusetts -- after all, it originated in Plymouth. As we prepare for this year's holiday, we immerse ourselves in the signs of the season: crisp air, apple picking, fall leaves, and colorful food. Some of us might be busy planning our menus for Thanksgiving. Others might be contemplating signing up for that Turkey Trot. Either way you cut it, food is top of mind.
But how many of us stop to consider what is served in front of us and how it got there? It's not something we often think about, but the facts are staggering. The inputs into agriculture are enormous: about 12 percent of the earth's surface is cropland and the industry uses about 70 percent of our freshwater supply. Moreover, it is taxing on the environment with domestic ruminants as the primary contributors of methane and 70 percent of nitrous oxides coming from tillage and fertilizer use. And to top it all, it is estimated that in the U.S., about $165 billion worth of food is wasted every year. With a global population expected to reach 10 billion within the next 50 years, we'll need to increase food production by as much as 70 percent. Somehow, we'll need to get our act together quickly -- we'll simply need to do more with less.
Achieving this increase in global food production requires nothing less than a systemic transformation of the way we seed, harvest, and cultivate our food. The opportunities for entrepreneurs to build large businesses in agriculture are significant -- particularly given the advancements in biotechnology, robotics, low-cost sensors and big data analytics. However, agricultural value chains are complex and bringing a product to market in this type of environment can be extremely challenging. Timelines may be slower, costs higher, and the "right industry connections" ever more important.
Despite these challenges, the combination of such a critical problem, a massive market (estimated at $120 billion in net farm revenue today), and the potential for technology to make a difference undoubtedly point to agriculture as a compelling place for innovation. Moreover, there are ways to mitigate the challenges of the industry. Entrepreneurs should not have to embark on the journey alone. For example, Farm2050 is a collective of industry partners in agriculture with the mission to catalyze groundbreaking innovation by providing entrepreneurs with the network and resources required to build the foundation for a better agricultural future. It's a new type of support ecosystem that goes far beyond capital. Unique in its ability to offer assistance with industrial design, manufacturing, testing, and industry networking, Farm2050 is excited about lowering the barrier to entry for these entrepreneurs who are working to build the foundation for a more efficient agricultural future.
As we reflect on our appreciation for food and what it stands for -- community, culture, and a centerpiece of society -- we recognize how important food is. We are starting to understand how evolving technology in agriculture over the years has enabled the phenomenal growth we've seen recently and that technology will continue to enable the world's future growth. We can think of few causes more worthy of our industry's time, investment, and dedication.
Special thanks to Dror Berman, Managing Partner at Innovation Endeavors and Flextronics’ Head of Lab IX Lior Susan for her substantial contributions to this article.