Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Andreessen Horowitz Heads Down on the Farm With Latest Investment

Everybody eats. It’s one of those fundamental truths I learned from “Sesame Street” in the 1970s.

Another is that most of what we eat comes out of the ground, unless it’s meat, in which case what it eats probably comes out of the ground.

Either way, that makes agriculture kind of a big deal everywhere in the world. So if you can develop a product that makes farming better, more efficient or less costly, you’re probably onto something, and that itself is sort of a big deal.

That’s kind of what the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is hoping happens to its latest investment, a company called Solum. AH is leading a $17 million Series B round of venture capital financing in the start-up, and general partner John O’Farrell is joining its board of directors. Existing investors including Khosla Ventures also participated.

So what does Solum (those are its founders pictured in the farm field to the right) do? O’Farrell put it in an interesting way in a blog post today. As his partner Marc Andreessen said recently, software is eating the world. O’Farrell says it might also help feed it.

All farmers have to test their soil every few years in order to figure out what kind of fertilizer the soil needs and how much. Most of the testing is done by small Mom-and-Pop operations that often turn back less than optimal, sometimes hit-or-miss data. The result is that farmers use too much fertilizer, which can get costly. And it’s not economical to use too much fertilizer. Look at China: Since the 1970s, it has boosted its agricultural output by 40 percent while boosting its user of fertilizers by 225 percent.

Solum is a software company that aims to disrupt the way that soil gets tested, and yield new, better data that can lead to more efficient applications of fertilizer and better yields.

That’s not a small thing. As the world’s population continues to grow, world food production is going to have to grow with it to accommodate demand. It has tripled in the last 100 years or so and will have to double again in the next 100 years.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work