Microsoft joins futuristic farm venture near Fargo

microsoft president brad smith in fargo
Microsoft president Brad Smith announces an investment in a new venture to create a futurist ag technology development and testing farm near Fargo, N.D., while project advisor Barry Batcheller and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum listen. Smith spoke at the Microsoft campus in Fargo on Thursday.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Microsoft is joining a new project to develop a futuristic, high tech farm near Fargo, N.D.

Company president Brad Smith announced Thursday that Microsoft is contributing $1.5 million to help get the venture started.

“This is all about creating technology that will make farmers more productive and more profitable and it will help make farms more sustainable,” said Smith.

Microsoft scientists will be involved with the project, developing new technology like cheap internet-connected sensors to monitor crops in the field.

The idea for what’s being called Grand Farm, started with Fargo agriculture technology entrepreneur Barry Batcheller, who’s been involved in several ag equipment companies, and is an advisor to the project.

“The Grand Farm will be a place where we will ask technologies from around the world to be brought together in a single place where we can touch these technologies, feel these technologies, work with these technologies,” Batcheller said. “It will be a real physical place. It will be a showcase.”

Backers of the project expect to have a fully autonomous farm operational by 2025 on a site near Fargo where development has already started.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the project compliments the advanced drone research and development happening in the state.

“The level of technology that’s coming together that could impact agriculture is immense and it’s happening right here at the intersection of multiple industries,” said Burgum.

Research and development will focus on advancing the production of U.S. farmers, who are in many cases already using technology to implement precision agriculture practices, but the research farm also will have a focus on technology that could help farmers in developing countries.

Microsoft’s Smith predicts big advances in ag technology in the next 10 to 30 years to help feed a growing world population.

“We have no choice but to find ways to enable farmers to become more productive and with farms that are more sustainable. The farmers of the world will need new technology,” he said.

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