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posted January 14, 2014

Farmers & geeks: hacking agriculturehack

A community of ‘start-up farmers’ are applying skills and ethos from the software and tech worlds to agriculture. It’s an exciting approach that could help us build a more sustainable food system.

If you were looking to list the big innovations that have transformed our lives over the last centuries, you’d do well to consider the combine harvester. Its name comes from combining three different harvesting processes.

The labour it saved and the efficiencies gained revolutionised agriculture.

Today’s combines are symbolic of modern high-tech, large-scale farming – a large combine can be 12 metres wide, have a 600 horsepower engine, and cut 4,000 acres of arable crops in one harvest.

We need to produce more and more efficiently if we’re to feed the world’s growing (and increasingly middle class) population.

Yet, the negative impacts of the industrialisation of our food system are well documented – from loss of biodiversity and soil quality, to chemical use and overreliance on fossil fuel-derived inputs.

Another of the fallouts is small farmers struggling to compete.

So I was excited to discover Farm Hack, a US-based non-profit founded by a group of ‘start-up farmers’. Their goal is to transform small to mid-scale farming through applying entrepreneurial tools and approaches that originated in the tech and software world – such as hacking, an open source ethos, and home manufacturing.

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