On November 14, 2023, Sanjeev Krishnan, Senior Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer at S2G Ventures, testified before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, led by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR).
Speaking at the hearing “Innovation in American Agriculture: Leveraging Technology and Artificial Intelligence,” Sanjeev addressed the importance of partnerships between food and agriculture stakeholders and innovators to drive positive system-wide impact, and how new technology-based solutions can further enhance that impact. He emphasized the farming industry’s extensive legacy of innovation, the need for new technology to synthesize immense volumes of agricultural data points, AI’s potential to be a powerful tool to strengthen trust and improve equity in the agriculture community, and that public and private sector partnerships play a critical role in supporting the adoption and scaling of ag tech solutions.
Sanjeev joined four other industry experts at the hearing: Dr. Mason Earles of the University of California, Davis, Dr. Jose-Marie Griffiths of Dakota State University, Dr. Jahmy Hindman of Deere & Company, and Todd J. Janzen of Janzen Schroeder Agricultural Law.
Below are excerpts from Sanjeev’s testimony.
This conversation is particularly timely as we begin to see the broader integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into commercialized agricultural technologies, and as U.S. farmers adopt these technologies at an unprecedented rate.
Traditionally, venture capital is oriented around identifying and investing in winning companies believed to have long-term growth potential to generate a financial return in the relatively short-term. Throughout my career, however, I have been as interested in finding opportunities at the intersection of investment, sustainability and health, and innovation, in what is referred to as “tough tech.” I help lead a team of more than 40 talented and passionate sector experts and investors similarly focused on identifying promising technologies, companies, and entrepreneurs across the food, agriculture, oceans, seafood and clean energy sectors. It’s called tough tech because these sectors – including agriculture and food – often receive disproportionately low investment and are less well-understood, with opportunities and challenges that cannot be solved through a single app, a consumer device or lines of software code. Tough tech requires patience and a longer-term investment approach to develop new ideas and learnings to tackle system-wide opportunities.
This tough tech philosophy drives S2G and is reflected in how we diligence investments and support our portfolio companies. Using a systems perspective, we evaluate challenges in food and agriculture, and, in partnership with farmers and food system stakeholders, we identify and invest in the missing pieces and needs.
4 Key Themes Drawing from the Systems Perspective
The journey of the American farmer is a remarkable story of embracing innovation and transformation. Tech and artificial intelligence build on that tradition. These technologies and their applications and implications are just beginning to emerge. But they offer a unique toolkit to rapidly accelerate breakthrough solutions and significant per-acre value generation.
Today, farmers are drowning in data, but not in solutions. We now have aggregated data points from sensors, machinery, and many other sources. Improving that data’s quality and utilizing the data to drive better, faster, and more efficient and precise ag tech solutions. These solutions will be able to automatically adapt and moderate the impacts of extreme weather, volatile commodity prices and more. This also represents a new frontier of deriving value from on-farm data.
AI can enhance the foundation of U.S. agriculture: trust and community. Ag technology, data, analytics and AI have an important role to play in strengthening human relationships. For example, AI offers nearly instant power to analyze and identify patterns across massive amounts of historical research and on-farm data. Combined with their real-world experience, AI could enable independent agronomists or certified crop advisors to offer faster, more precise advice and actionable insights to farmers. AI can also make existing ag technologies better and more effective and help weed out ineffective approaches. This enables farmers to focus resources and time on options that work best for the conditions on their operations. In addition, ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment in agriculture will be important to ensuring that AI systems do not perpetuate biases, are transparent in their decision-making processes, and are accountable for their outcomes.
Public policy plays a critical role in developing and scaling critical ag tech tools. Federal loan guarantees and other financing opportunities offer security to the developers of nascent technologies that, once they are at scale, offer a public good in the form of improved sustainability or profitability. Financial instruments will continue to be an important area for private-public partnership and innovation. Improving data quality and sharing will be critical. The public and private sectors should work together to avoid duplicative work and focus limited resources on filling data gaps. And it will be critical to protect privacy, support the farmer and build tools that account for the full diversity of the food and agriculture system.
I believe that we are at a critical moment for farmers and ranchers, rural communities, innovators and entrepreneurs, and for the food and agriculture system as a whole. This is an incredible opportunity to leverage and direct the power of artificial intelligence, with appropriate guardrails and protections in place, to make technologies, programs and practices across the food and agriculture system work better, faster and more efficiently to improve our lives in innumerable ways. By stepping up now and taking on the mantle of leadership, we have the opportunity to control, direct and optimize that future to the benefit of the American farmer, the American consumer and the global food and agriculture system.