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and animal feed industries.

US poultry industry insights

Austin Alonzo, editor of WATT Poultry USA, examines hot topics surrounding the US poultry industry as it deals with a changing consumer, emerging animal welfare concerns and other disruptive challenges.
North America / Industry News & Trends / Sustainable Agriculture

A Silicon Valley cowboy takes on agriculture

Kimbal Musk prepares to appear on a local radio program in Colorado.
Kimbal Musk, appearing on a public radio show in Colorado in this photo, is pushing his vision to revolutionize the food industry with a Silicon Valley mindset. Facebook, The Kitchen - Real Food for Everyone
November 7, 2017

The business world is dominated by technology. Five companies in particular: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook, are among the world’s largest public companies and collectively shape the modern business and social world.

Perhaps inspired by the meteoric rise of those companies, a multitude of brash entrepreneurs are cropping up with the goal of disrupting then redefining entire industries. Young companies like Uber and Airbnb are already capturing key, young segments of their markets while upending business models.

It’s not surprising some of these ambitious minds are focusing on agriculture. Everyone eats, and farming – to the outsider – seems to be a process ripe for some classic Silicon Valley disruption and scale.

The New York Times recently profiled one such entrepreneur: Kimbal Musk and his personal mission to remake the American food system in Silicon Valley’s image. Kimbal Musk made his money in tech with his brother, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and sees agriculture as ripe for revolution. He’s fond of calling food “the new internet.”

Musk’s overall goal is to create a food system “based on healthy, local food grown on chemical-free farms.” He’s putting the time and resources into it by speaking at events around the country, investing in food projects and working to establish programs in schools around the U.S.

His focus is on scaling – or rapidly expanding an operation while maintaining or increasing efficiency – production of food produced in accordance with the organic and clean food ethos increasingly capturing consumers’ attention. He’s done this through a restaurant chain, a number of school garden programs and a business that grow crops inside shipping containers located in urban areas.

Meanwhile, Musk –  who literally wears a cowboy hat in public – is rubbing some of the stalwarts of the organic movement the wrong way. Those quoted in the article said he’s enthusiastic but ignorant of some of the foundations of agriculture and, specifically, traditional organic ideals. One farmer even mocked him by saying he might have missed 70 years of agricultural history.

While Musk brings a famous name to his cause, he’s not the only Silicon Valley activist/capitalist looking to disrupt the industry. Food companies promise – or threaten – to deliver meat without an animal and are already selling more realistic and palatable vegetable-based meat alternatives.

Animal agriculture is monitoring how these tech-focused businesses can and will change the industry either through real innovation or driving a significant shift in public opinion. While it’s easy to scoff at Musk and his like as dreamers with more dollars than sense, their ability to build a business, disseminate a message and influence public opinion should be respected.  

Even if their efforts don’t totally revolutionize the food industry, the essential message they preach – that the current food system is big and bad and their plucky underdog alternative is better – live forever, and are easily shared, online.  

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