Can IoT Save Us from Food Waste?

The U.S. throws out as much food as it consumes, and some of this waste occurs before food even reaches the grocery store shelves.

Last week, the Guardian reported that the U.S. throws out as much food as it consumes. As you may have guessed, a huge component of this problem is on the consumer side – like, how many times have you had really good intentions at the grocery store and then you wind up with a crisper full of dicey, water-logged vegetables a week later?

Well, sit with your guilt for a minute.

So the other side of the coin is food waste that occurs upstream – during the farming, harvesting and distribution process. Sometimes massive amounts of produce are left to rot because they don’t fit the standards of the “beauty” produce Americans have come to expect in the grocery store. Sad, right? But there is also waste around volatile, perishable commodities that can be impacted by unpredictable conditions like weather.

A new startup called Arable Labs has unveiled a professional-grade crop and weather sensor that’s solar powered, rugged and was designed by the king of consumer IoT, Fred Bould, the creative talent behind the Nest thermostat, as well as Fitbit, GoPro and Roku products.

Arable’s flagship, the PulsePod, can constantly monitor crop growth, or regrowth of grass in a pasture, as well as rainfall, crop water demand, light and heat levels and even the color of your kale leaves, which is important in determining harvest-readiness of the crops. In addition to its hardware, Arable offers a cloud-based app and developer tools including an API to help farmers and businesses that work with them to do custom forecasting, modeling and analysis of the data they gather on the ground.

Several notable manufacturers are already testing out the technology, including berry-grower Driscoll’s and Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Longer-term, according to Tech Crunch, the Arable could be utilized beyond agriculture, for example, to help cities manage urban flooding, water quality or fires. But for now the company remains focused on the needs of food farmers.

And while the sharpest minds in tech tackle the problem upstream, don’t forget that you, too, can play a role in combating food waste. Buy the ugly carrots.