Hawaii’s Emerging Agriculture Technology Industry

The farming industry in Hawaii is turning to all things tech.

“We’re seeing robots that can plant, water and seed a 10-by-10 plot, pick strawberries and shake mac nut trees. There are infrared sensors to show you how hot the plants are and how much water they need, and drones that can fertilize in perfect amounts,” says Cole Santos, co-founder of Maui Makers.

AgFunder, an online marketplace in ag company ventures, says investment in agriculture technology companies reached $4.6 billion in 2015, double the previous year.

The majority of technology-driven innovation targets valuable large-scale agribusinesses, primarily in the Midwest and along the West Coast, but things are different in Hawaii. The local farming scene is in transition, resulting in a slower adoption of new technologies and processes, says Joshua Uyehara, president of the Kekaha Agriculture Association board of directors.

“As the plantations have gone away, there’s been a void. It’s been a struggle to figure out our agriculture industry. As tech and ag progress in the world around us, we need to figure out how to step back into an industry that hasn’t been standing still. How do we jump back on the treadmill?”

There is a growing community focused on developing innovative solutions for smaller farms that also address Hawaii’s clean energy and food security goals. Among those active in the area are the state’s Energy Excelerator, Blue Startups, XLR8UH and Ulupono Initiative.

“Energy and agriculture are Hawaii’s two biggest advantages as well as our two biggest pain points,” says Tarik Sultan, managing partner at XLR8UH. “We need energy innovation because we’re paying four times more than everyone else. We need agricultural innovation because we have limited lands and resources. In the case of a catastrophic event, Hawaii wouldn’t last two weeks.”

Hawaii offers a tax credit to local companies performing any type of research and development. Thus, the farming companies turning to technology and innovative solutions would receive a credit from the government for doing so. To find out more about the federal and state R&D tax credit, contact one of our specialists by clicking here.

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