Innovative Tech is Transforming Agriculture

Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Entrepreneurship, Green, Measure Impact

IMG_1063Farming and technology. Not words the average consumer associates with one another. But for Soli Ltd, an Israel-based, farm-tech and food export company that specializes in the breeding and cultivating of hybrid vegetable seeds, and Tian Leh Eco-Farm, a farm in China that focuses on producing high quality produce, farming and technology work hand-in-hand.

“Farm tech encompasses all parts of agriculture,” Issac Liebreich, Founder of Soli and expert ergonomist, told me. “For example, we use a computer system to control irrigation, climate, fog, lighting and pest control in our greenhouses.”

Farm technologies help produce higher yields and more importantly to Soli and Tian Leh Eco-Farm, higher quality. Open field crops can also incorporate farm technology systems and include virus resistant, seed hybrids, seed breeding and variety expansion.

“We are developing new varieties with new resistances to virus. If you want better resistance, you reduce the use of chemicals and breed varieties which can withstand the harm of insects and viruses,” Liebreich told me.

The goal of Soli’s work is to increase the global supply of high quality and sustainable produce. Liebreich sees the market for high quality produce rapidly expanding in China, and he thinks Tian Leh Eco-Farm is jumping into this market at the most opportune time.

“There is no limit for better quality in China. For the next 20 years, we see a huge growth opportunity. There’s an opportunity to make money, not to become rich, but established. And even more, there’s a huge need for high quality food distribution,” Liebreich told me in an interview.

Just as we have experienced a decline in varieties of fruits and vegetables in the United States, Liebreich described the same about China.

“Forty years ago, you’d see a big mess of tomatoes on the shelves: red, yellow, green. But today, all tomatoes are the same,” said Liebreich.

This reason is why Founders of Tian Leh Eco-Farm and the married couple, Hui Wang and Luyao Li, are giving up their chance at the American dream, choosing to use their Masters degrees from Northeastern and MIT, respectively, to invest into China’s agricultural systems. Wang spent his childhood helping his parents on the family farm. He saw dozens of people abandon their family farms and head for factory jobs in the cities.

“The industrial revolution attracted families away from their farms and into the cities. There wasn’t enough money in small scale, family-operated agricultural to provide for a family so men and women left the fields and went to work in urban factories. Many farms became less-attended and desolate. Hui’s vision is to demonstrate that a new modal of farming practices, planned and operated by college graduates can be financially sustainable and support Earth’s natural systems too,” Li explained.

Tian Leh Eco-Farm’s tagline is “to return nature back to farming and farming back to people” and this influences every decision the farm makes. Wang incorporates practices of biomimicry into every activity. For example, the goats, corn, wheat, geese and fishery at Tian Leh form a mini-ecosystem with a virtuous cycle of converting waste of one species into food, energy and fertilizer for others

“By modeling natural systems, Tian Leh Eco-Farm restores and advances the land of Bengbu and provides easy access to sustainable food,” said Li. “Our mission is to stand as a model of high-tech, sustainable farming. We want to produce high quality food through sustainable farming practices in order to reconnect the Chinese, urban professional with their food and with nature. We also want to help others create a lifestyle of serenity, gratitude and connection to the Earth as our customers understand the food on their plates.”

Wang was the first person from his village of Bengbu to receive a Master’s degree – Wang trained as a mechanical engineer- and the first to study in the United States. His family worked hard to send him to college and never imagined he would return home…for farming. But Wang “felt called to his land” and today, he and Li are almost three years into turning devastated land into a nutrient-rich, highly-productive and diverse farm. Soon they plan to incorporate technology into their every day, farming activities.

Wang and Li recently visited Soli’s headquarters in Israel in order to better understand farm tech.  What they discovered is that many of Soli’s high quality produce breeds suit the Chinese palette and could bring large potential market opportunity if domesticated in the Chinese market.

“They have excellent soil, excellent water, and excellent conditions which is not an easy thing to find in China. It’s very unique,” said Liebreich.

Soli and Tian Leh Eco-Farm are currently exploring the possibility of partnership. They know have a lot to offer one another and are both seeking to grow supply and demand for sustainable produce in China. One seed at a time.

Read more about Soli Ltd and Tian Leh Eco-Farm.

– See more at: http://www.justmeans.com/blogs/innovative-tech-is-transforming-agriculture#sthash.yd3xKpB4.dpuf

Julie Fahnestock

Julie lives in Cambridge, MA and is currently pursuing her MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro Graduate School in Vermont. She has a background in international development and grassroots organizing and is passionate about equitable wages, labor rights and the global income disparity. Julie is also a new blogger for Just Means and Socialearth. If you can't find Julie in Cambridge, she's probably on the beaches somewhere in South Florida.

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