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Best of 2019: AFN’s 10 best read

December 19, 2019

Another year gone, another decade coming to a close. We’re using the occasion to highlight our top 10 most-read articles on AFN in 2019, which has the added bonus of giving our egos a boost as we head to family gatherings where questions like, “So, what do you actually do for a living?” and “People pay you to write?” are sure to volley over carafes of gravy and baskets of bread rolls. 

As agri-foodtech journalists, we have a unique opportunity to study the sector from corner-to-corner while spending as much time as we want diving into certain areas that pique our interests or that raise interesting questions. But what’s equally fascinating to us is what our readers found most informative throughout the year. We probably wouldn’t have called it back in January, but vertical farming seems to have been top of mind for most AFN readers this past year.

Without further ado, feast your eyes on AFN’s best of 2019:

1. What is precision agriculture? – An oldie from 2017, but evergreen content due to the broad survey it offers of the precision agriculture space. Remi Schmaltz’s guest post is still getting a lot of love because startups are still innovating heavily when it comes to applying new technologies like data analytics and AI to some of farmers’ most persistent and recurring problems like predicting disease and forecasting weather.

2. AgTech Landscape 2019: 1,600+ Startups Innovating on the Farm and in the ‘Messy Middle’ – Better Food Ventures partner Seana Day graces the runner-up spot and technically claims the title for the most read piece published in 2019. Another evergreen article offering a hilltop view of how many startups have entered the agtech space and the places along the supply chain where they are applying their efforts. This is a good one to bookmark if you are eager to learn more about a specific area of innovation or perhaps looking for wide-open spaces for your forthcoming startup. The top read article from 2018 was also a market map exploring 99 technologies changing the future of farming in Africa.

3. 7 Top Agtech Startups Defining the Future of Agriculture – In the third spot, a sponsored article from our Network Partner F&A Next shared the seven agtech companies selected to pitch their business ideas at the F&A Next conference at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

4. The Top 20 Innovative Food Startups in 2018 – This one is no surprise. Plant-based protein alternatives caught their stride in 2019 thanks in large part to the legwork that startups put in during 2018. This article recaps the 20 best-funded innovative food startups in 2018, which includes edible insects and wellness-focused offerings like cannabis-infused beverages.

5. The Economics of Local Vertical and Greenhouse Farming Are Getting Competitive – Another guest post (should the AFN editorial team be concerned about job security?) from agriculture consultant Peter Tasgal who boasts 10 years in the investment banking segment. Here, Tasgal breaks down the nitty-gritty costs of indoor ag operations. The space may have a hearty contingent of naysayers, but vertical farming has gotten hot again thanks to some eye-popping funding rounds.

6. Who are the Leading Insect Farming Startups? – A 2017 article that’s still finding a lot of love as people continue to explore the insect farming space. Despite the number of legs on these micro livestock’s bodies, the space seems to be lacking many of its own. Interest and conversation continue to encircle insect farming from the periphery but barriers like consumer acceptance continue to keep many on the sidelines.

7. Regenerative Agriculture is Getting More Mainstream But How Scalable is it? – One of the buzziest phrases of 2019, this article takes a hard look at whether the promises of regenerative agriculture — farming more holistically — can not only pay off but meet the world’s major demand for food. AFN freelancer Emily Payne provides a nice primer of some of the main pillars of regenerative agriculture while noting its potential to sequester more carbon than conventional farming practices. We also attended the first Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum in Oakland this year to find out what the investment community is thinking about this emerging world, although the Rodale Institute claims its founder coined the term decades ago.

8. Regenerative Agriculture is Having a Moment and 70 Investments Worth $47.5bn are in it – Another exploration of where this new movement might be headed, AFN editor Louisa Burwood-Taylor dug into data from the Soil Wealth Report detailing the funding dollars that have already been poured into regenerative ag-focused efforts. As she fairly notes, it’s far too soon to even predict who the winners and losers will be in the race to help farmers make food more regeneratively but investors are clearly already placing a few bets.

9. 80 Acres Farms Raises $40m to Complete ‘First Fully Automated Vertical Farm – This was just one example of investors’ renewed interest in vertical farming during 2019. The round is being used to help the outfit complete construction of its Hamilton, Ohio facility. Powered by a lot of tech including automation and robotics, the facility’s design is the result of years of research. With tricky economics and a lot of moving parts, it shouldn’t be surprising that vertical farming has taken a bit longer to capture permanent interest from investors.

10. The second generation of vertical farming is approaching. Here’s why it’s important. – Vertical farming business consultant Boaz Toledano schools AFN readers on a few key reasons why this space is having a renaissance after hitting several speed bumps and facing a slough of skepticism. He attributes a lot of the new momentum to next-gen technology that has enabled vertical farm operators to tackle some of the pesky expenses and inefficiencies that plagued earlier iterations.

The eleventh most popular article was a dive into the truthfulness of some of the statements that alternative protein startups use to persuade consumers to go plant-based while the twelfth most-read article named the 60 agrifood tech startups nominated for the 2019 AgFunder Innovation Awards. Thirteenth place went to Aerofarms’ whopping $100 million late-stage raise showing once again that the vertical farming space was the dark horse of 2019.

Sadly, an article that didn’t make the list but that has inked an indelible impression on the AFN editorial team’s hearts is our very own Richard Martyn Hemphill’s exploration of Connected Robotics’ $7.8 million Series A raise in which he brilliantly interwove a frighteningly vivid explanation of how octopuses mate.

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