To sustainably meet the world’s growing demand for food, we need to change what we grow and how we grow it.
To feed the planet’s growing population, global agriculture will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than in the previous 10,000 – at a time when climate change is making our crops less productive.
Until now, the world’s approach to meeting this challenge has been to standardize what we grow and how we grow it. Modern agriculture practices focus on cultivating a few crops known to have high yields — today, rice, wheat, and maize provide nearly half the world’s plant-derived calories.
We also standardize how we manage the crops we grow — most crops are treated uniformly on a per acre or per hundred acre basis with chemicals for issues like pests, weeds, and disease and fertilizers. But an agriculture system that’s optimized for productivity and simplicity comes with risks.
Intensively growing just a few varieties of plants makes our food supply vulnerable to pests, disease, and a changing climate. Over time, it also depletes the soil of nutrients and minerals, reduces the diversity of the soil’s microbiome, and diminishes the soil’s ability to store carbon. Overuse of fertilizers and chemicals also negatively affects soil health, creating a vicious cycle that makes our farmlands less productive and the food we grow less nutritious.
Embracing complexity to unlock a new era of sustainable agriculture
Project Mineral started with the insight that to sustainably grow more food on a global scale, new tools and insights will be needed to manage the staggering complexity of farming. The team started their journey by talking with breeders and growers around the world to learn about the challenges they face.
From soybean farmers in Argentina to kiwifruit breeders in New Zealand, they heard that they need to gather much more information on many more varieties of biodiverse plants—and quickly, if they are going to find varieties that are resilient and productive in the face of climate change.
Growers face hundreds of decisions every season, yet current tools aren’t equipping them to meet the challenges they face. Even though they use digital tools like sensors, spreadsheets, and GPS, their data is either siloed or doesn’t fully represent agriculture’s complexity.
Mineral saw an opportunity to build new software and hardware tools that can bring together diverse sources of information that until now were simply too complex or overwhelming to be useful.
Building on breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, machine learning, simulation, perception, and robotics, Mineral set out to build the world’s first detailed “operating manual” for plants. Just as the microscope changed how diseases are detected and managed, Mineral hopes that by seeing and understanding the plant world in a radically different way, we can usher in a new era of sustainable agriculture.
Building a complete picture of the field
To uncover critical new details about how crops are grown and food is produced, the team developed a range of prototypes. These include the Mineral rover, which rolls through the fields gathering high- quality images of each plant. By combining the imagery gathered by the rover with other data sets like satellite imagery, weather data, and soil information, the team has been creating a full picture of what’s happening in the field and using machine learning to identify patterns and useful insights into how plants grow and interact with their environment.
Reimagining the future of agriculture with partners
Follow Mineral’s journey, working with and learning from partners around the world.
Building new computational agriculture tools with partners
In January 2023, Mineral graduated from the rapid prototyping environment of X. Today Mineral is an independent Alphabet company working to unlock a more sustainable, climate-resilient, and productive food system. The team has developed a suite of agriculture-specific technologies, including plant perception tools that collect and instantly make sense of images of crops and weeds in the field and a software platform that combines this data with hundreds of other agriculture data types. If you’d like to partner with Mineral or want to join the team that is tackling these challenges, Mineral would love to hear from you.