It’s hard to believe electric vehicles were still considered the stuff of science fiction as little as 13 years ago.

SwissCognitiveAs documented in the 2006 film Who Killed The Electric Car , the tech needed for battery-powered electric cars has been around for nearly 100 years. Yet well into the 21st century, popular opinion held that EVs would never make it to the mainstream. At best, they’d be slow, expensive, impractical vehicles for those willing to compromise on power, speed, and convenience for the sake of sustainability.

Then Tesla Motors burst onto the scene. Its Roadster wasn’t just the first high-performance electric vehicle to capture the attention of the masses; it jump-started a commercial market expected to reach $567 billion by 2025 . With nearly every major car manufacturer now producing EVs, Tesla did what many thought was impossible: jolt a traditional industry out of inertia and prove the sustainable option could also perform powerfully and be the object of desire, not of compromise.

The next industry in line for a tech transformation will be food and agriculture. Yes, as recently as 2016 farming ranked dead last in terms of adopting digital technologies. But today it’s drawing outsized interest from investors who see a clear and pressing need to bring farming into the future. Investment in AgTech firms reached $ 16.9 billion in 2018 , up 43% from the previous year. Even luminaries like Kimbal Musk (Elon’s brother) and Bill Gates are getting in on the AgTech game, investing and driving solutions for sustainability without compromise.

But while investors, big producers, and progressive farmers are getting on board, we’re a far cry from seeing sophisticated technologies like computer vision, robotics, data science, and machine learning make the critical leap from the labs to ordinary farm fields.

At stake is more than just market share. Like the automobile industry before it, farming desperately needs a digital overhaul to remain sustainable in the face of a growing global population and climate change. The question is: What’s it going to take for AgTech to have its Tesla moment?

Capture the mouths (and minds) of eaters

Behind the rise of EVs came with a groundswell of public interest: The increased awareness of climate change was driving a critical mass of conscious consumers to rally for better, environmentally friendlier alternatives to gas.

The same thing needs to happen in agriculture. But unlike cars, farming is a process most consumers are disconnected from.

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Still, momentum is on our side. From Beyond Meat’s popularity and stock market success to the meteoric rise in demand for organic produce and the popularity of vegan and gluten-free diets, interest in where our food comes from has never been higher.[…]

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