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Image credit: Grand Farm

Microsoft-backed agtech innovation network Grand Farm expands to Georgia

June 13, 2024

  • North Dakota-based agtech innovation network Grand Farm has taken its first step towards expansion outside North Dakota with the opening of a location in Georgia.
  • In partnership with the University of Georgia (UGA), the new campus will serve as a regional hub for startups, growers, researchers and public- and private-sector stakeholders to collaborate on the most pressing needs in agtech right now.
  • Over time, Grand Farm aims to bring its regional agtech centers to other locations to develop solutions that can be applied to farming operations worldwide.

A local hub serving global needs

The University of Georgia Grand Farm will be located on 250 acres in Perry Georgia, next to the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.

“The farm will serve as a hub for research, education and sustainable agriculture practices and will harness the power of precision agriculture, robotics and data analytics to increase productivity, conserve resources and ensure food security for future generations,” notes UGA.

UGA’s Grand Farm will work closely with its North Dakota counterpart while establishing a local team and partnerships with local stakeholders. The first field projects will be deployed in 2025.

“This partnership is a great example of how Grand Farm works to advance agriculture technology and solve grower pain points across varied geographies,” says Grand Farm executive director William Aderholdt. “Collaborating with the University of Georgia allows us to leverage their extensive research capabilities and expertise in agricultural sciences, enhancing our ability to innovate and implement solutions that are tailored to diverse agricultural environments.”

“One of the challenges that’s unique to agtech startups is the innovation cycle,” adds Andrew Jason, ecosystems director at nonprofit Emerging Prairie, which leads the Grand Farm initiative. “The business cycle takes so many years of testing and validation. Most startups just die because there’s so little funding. How can we speed that up? That’s what I get really excited about, having trials at Grand farms in North Dakota, University of Georgia Grand Farm.

“Now startups can get multiple trials and validations going in one year and one season.”

Step one in a broader expansion

The opening of the Georgia farm is the first step in a broader expansion, says Jason.

“We ultimately designed [Grand Farm] to create this global ag tech ecosystem. Ultimately, we want to be able to solve challenges for farmers wherever they might be.”

Technology working for a farmer in one field may not cut it for a neighboring operation because of different soil conditions, for example.

“You need to have those regional kind of ecosystems designed to gather feedback from the growers on challenges they are facing and then deploy technology around that.”

The concept for Grand Farm originated around 2017 as a way of bringing startups, growers, corporate partners and others together to advance agriculture technologies in areas like robotics, automation, precision ag, and drones. At its heart, the Grand Farm network facilitates collaboration and research between the various groups developing local agtech, with applications for global agriculture.

Others have taken notice over the last several years, including Microsoft, which in 2019 invested $1.5 million into Grand Farm in part to help build what it at the time called “the farm of the future.”

A few years later, in 2022, the North Dakota Legislature and State Department of Commerce awarded Grand Farm a $10 million matching grant to build the Grand Farm Innovation campus to demonstrate and research new products and technologies. Grand Farm opened its Innovation Shop, a 25,000-square-foot facility that will act as a central hub for activities and technology demonstrations, earlier this week.

‘A lot of the world looks like Georgia’

Georgia was the next obvious place for Grand Farm for a number of reasons, says Chris Rhodes, director of industry partnerships and project-based learning at UGA.

“Georgia is one of only a handful of states [in the US] that has a very large agriculture industry,” he says. “You see big farms, big equipment, lots of production, but it also has a variety of climate zones and crops. We also have a very business-friendly economy and state [to attract] all industries, and agriculture is our number one industry so it makes sense that we will be attracting innovative companies from that perspective.”

Climate-wise, he adds, “a lot of the world looks like Georgia: wet, humid, soil that isn’t nutrient rich like it is in North Dakota.”

“As we think about the next stage of agricultural technology and agricultural education in Georgia, we’re trying to think about how do we relate to the rest of the world.”

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