AgriFood tech is a maturing market, as evidenced by the swell in investing activity last year. Startups in the space attracted nearly $17 billion in investment capital–a 43% increase from the previous year, according to data from AgFunder. But as companies grow, and the deal sizes grow with them, it pays to keep an eye on what new innovations are coming down the pipeline.
For that, early agrifood tech investor Anterra Capital pays attention to trends outside of the food and ag space. “We look at other verticals to understand what else is [happening], because food and ag are usually late to the party,” Anterra’s founder Maarten Goossens tells AFN.
AgriFood tech can also be split into two parts — upstream or “agtech,” closer to the farmer, and downstream or “foodtech,” closer to the consumer.
Anterra has selected seven agtech companies to pitch their business ideas at the F&A Next conference at Wageningen University in the Netherlands next month. Reflected in its selection is the convergence of digital and biotechnologies that are starting to come into the agriculture industry.
“Where the two marry each other, it’s creating a whole different type of innovation these days,” Goossens says.
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Livestock health is also an emerging tech sector that Anterra is following. “When we started 10 years ago, no startup was focused on animals,” Goossens continues. “Now, they cover the whole spectrum from nutrition to health to the convergence of the two.”
Here’s a look at the seven startups building agtech of the future, including robotics, blockchain, insur-tech, and cow fart-reduction tech (yes, really).
Augmenta, based in Athens, Greece, has developed a smart, robotic system called the “Field Analyzer” to help farmers accurately fertilize and spray their fields. The system comprises a piece of hardware that attaches to field equipment and automates the amount and timing of field treatments. The farmer monitors progress from a tablet using Augmenta’s web platform.
Augmenta raised $600,000 in seed funding last July from Marathon Venture Capital, also based in Greece. Its Field Analyzer is currently in beta testing, according to the company website. It claims its technology can improve crop yields by up to 12%, improve crop quality by up to 20% and reduce fertilizer use by 15%.
Massachusetts-based GreenLight Biosciences makes bio-pesticides that are highly targeted to specific pest varieties, like the Colorado Potato Beetle, ensuring that neither plants nor other insect and animal species are affected. The company’s technology targets a pest’s RNA, causing fatal interference with the species’ protein production. “A treatment that blocks wing development in one insect pest could be made completely innocuous to other beneficial insects, such as bees,” the company website states.
Greenlight Biosciences recently raised a $50 million funding round, more than double its previous round in 2017. It has hired a commercial team to help get its first products to market.
Hectare Agritech in the UK has developed blockchain-based trading platforms for grain and livestock buyers and sellers. The company, which was founded by cattle farmer Dan Luff, aims to improve price and buying transparency in both sectors, which are otherwise known for being heavily relationship-based and clogged with intermediaries. SellMyLivestock and Graindex, its two trading platforms, allow farmers to sell their products directly from their farms and handle payments through Hectare’s digital payment system, FarmPay.
The company has been creative about financing its growth: it has raised $5 million, which includes several equity crowdfunding rounds, one of which was backed by tennis star Andy Murray.
Swedish startup Ignitia is a weather forecasting company serving climate-vulnerable farmers in tropical regions. The company partners with development agencies, NGOs, agricultural input businesses, and mobile network operators to provide and disseminate accurate and location-specific weather forecasts for small-scale farmers. Ignitia claims its service is reliable 84% of the time down to a three-square-kilometer range.
Ignitia has sent more than 220,000,000 forecasts since launching commercially in 2015, the company’s website states. Having built a stable B2C business, the company is working on expanding its B2B business, founder Liisa Smits told AgFunderNews after Ignitia’s $1.1 million Series A funding round last October.
Mootral in Switzerland is trying to help the livestock sector cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with a natural feed supplement that—um—makes cows fart less. Strictly speaking, it reduces the amount of methane cows and cow waste releases, by up to 30%, Mootral’s director of strategic partnerships Michael Mathres told AgFunderNews.
“Methane emissions originating from enteric fermentation in ruminants have been known for decades, but it is only now that we realize the true scale of the problem,” Mathres said. “As Bill Gates recently stated: ‘If cattle were a country they would rank third in GHG emissions after China and the US.’”
Mathres calls Mootral’s product a “climate game changer” and says the company’s claims were recently validated and certified by Carbon Trust. The product is in pilot mode with farmers. Mootral is looking to launch commercially later this year.
Boston-based Root AI is developing artificial intelligence and robotics to support the indoor farming sector. “The agricultural workforce is shrinking, but at the same time, we can’t simply opt out of making food,” Root’s founder Josh Lessing told AgFunderNews. “We need to figure out how to staff farms if we hope to continue to produce enough food and to produce it locally.”
The company is working on a harvesting robot, called Virgo, for controlled climates, like greenhouse and glasshouse farm operations. Virgo is designed to be dexterous and harvest the same way a person would. So far, the bot has learned how to pick tomatoes, but Lessing says the hardware can be used for a variety of crops. Root anticipates the robot being more widely available to growers next year.
London-based fintech startup Stable has developed an insurance platform to help farmers mitigate commodity price volatility. Price volatility is a significant risk to farmers, with crop prices subject to 20% or 30% swings each year. This makes it difficult for farmers to manage and plan their businesses. Stable’s platform serves as a marketplace for farmers to buy affordable crop volatility insurance. It also allows commodity investors to make trades in products and geographies that aren’t available on large exchanges, helping them to diversify their portfolios.
Stable’s founder Richard Counsell told AgFunderNews that the company intended to build a platform that was simple and to bring the industry back to its real farming roots. The company raised a $6 million seed funding round in March and is looking to expand into new geographic regions and launch similar platforms for industrial and energy.
Also, check out the seven food tech ventures that will be presenting at F&A Next.
*This post was sponsored by F&A Next, an AgFunder Network Partner. Find out more here.*