Here’s why Microsoft just invested $1.5M in a North Dakota high-tech farm project

(Grand Farm Image)

Microsoft is headed to the farm.

The Redmond, Wash. tech giant today announced a $1.5 million investment in Grand Farm, a project in North Dakota designed to spur innovation around farming and agriculture. Microsoft will provide its technology such as FarmBeats, as well as its own employees that will help with Grand Farm initiatives.

Here are more details from a Microsoft blog post:

Over the next three years, the Grand Farm strives to provide workers with digital skills to maximize their employability; create high-skilled jobs regionally and globally; support start-up businesses; act as a convenor to drive ag innovation and thought leadership; and bring new businesses to the region through a world-class venture capital program

Our ambition is to partner Microsoft technology, technologists, and data scientists with North Dakota farmers and entrepreneurs to build a world-class leading ag innovation center that showcases the “farm of the future.”

Agriculture is a $5 trillion industry, but less than 20 percent of acreage is managed by digital technology, according to Accenture. There are a number of companies — including Seattle startups Pollen Systems or Maka Autonomous Robots, and industry giants such as John Deere — trying to build tech for farmers.

Microsoft President Brad Smith and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum appeared at Microsoft Fargo campus on Thursday to announce the company’s investment, which comes from TechSpark, a civic program it created in 2017 intended to boost economic opportunities in rural areas and small communities.

Earlier this year Microsoft awarded a $100,000 TechSpark grant to support Airtonomy, a startup that’s partnering with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation to blaze a trail for drone applications in North Dakota’s “Silidrone Valley.”

Other TechSpark projects include Microsoft’s work in Wisconsin, where it is partnering with the Green Bay Packers on an innovation hub called TitletownTech, and in its home state of Washington, where it is aiming to spur economic opportunity and job creating in rural counties.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with info about Grand Farm initiatives and the announcement location.

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