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Dreaming of an Agritech New Year: Industry Wishes for 2017

December 26, 2016

As the year draws to a close and we’ve reflected on the year past, it’s time to think about what we hope to see in the agritech sector in 2017.

Is more venture capital investment on your wish list? Or are you hoping to see more robotics startups or employable talent in the space? We spoke to a range of industry insiders and AgFunderNews readers from the US and across the pond in the UK to find out what they’re dreaming of for 2017.

(If you’d like to share your wishes for the New Year, email us here)

Joseph Byrum, global head of soybean seeds product development at Syngenta, is wishing for a mathematics revolution:

“We’re long overdue for a mathematical revolution in agriculture. The power of advanced mathematics is boosting farm productivity made accessible by the processing capabilities in the latest generation of computing hardware and software. For example, farmers can now know the best time to plant crops by looking at historical data and using simulation models to make informed choices based on current conditions, rather than guesswork. Plant breeders also take advantage of advanced mathematics to identify crop varieties with higher yields and other desirable traits. Finally, the mathematical revolution can help schedule everything from the harvest to loading trucks in a way that ensures fresh crops make it to the market. In other words, the mathematics revolution brings to the entire agricultural supply chain the power to make informed decisions about using natural resources wisely.”

Brian Dawson, CEO, online equipment sharing platform HarvestPort would like…

“…to see more food startups targeting a socio-economically diverse group of consumers, not the same 1% making products for the 1%. And I wish for the overused VC word “disruptive” to be relegated strictly to parent-teacher conferences as a descriptor of child behavior.”

David Hunt, CEO of livestock identification tech Cainthus is wishing….

“…that all investment and general agtech innovation were made from a nutritional perspective first! This policy would avoid vertical farms/veggie burgers/mono-cultures/CBOT-driven market pricing among a lot of other things.

“I’d also like to see Big Ag getting more mature about partnering with start-ups and helping to roll out the new technologies through existing sales/distribution channels rather than trying to own everything — so last century! If ag history has shown us anything, it is that the surest route to more food is more innovation. Do all the ag mega-mergers going on ensure more rapid innovation and uptake or less? I would like to see more/less mega-mergers depending on the answer to this!”

Matthew Crisp, CEO of computational ag biology startup Benson Hill Biosystems has one simple wish:

“Some very merry exits would be nice.”

Rob Leclerc, CEO of AgFunder,  is wishing for:

“A couple of $250m + exits to private equity firms. This would signal to the incumbent agribusinesses that they’re not the only game in town, and if they continue to sit on the $20 billion of cash on their balance sheets, then outsiders are going to come in and shake up their industry.”

Michael Helmstetter and colleagues at agtech accelerator TechAccel are wishing for three things:

1. “How about a giant spike in interest in science careers, all fields, all over the world? And this new generation, once and for all, wipes out climate deniers, creationists and others who oppose science.

2. “We learn how the microbiome affects personality and behavior, and then we develop specialty diets to help achieve goals — such as, be more empathetic, calmer, less judgmental, more attentive, more thoughtful, less narcissistic?”

3. “A business model that makes terraforming, aquaponics, non-soil farming, and all the alternative growth models work — we make healthy food available as a basic right to all people.”

Ruth Bailey, director general of the Agricultural Engineering Association, says that her wish would be…

“…to find lots of bright and enthusiastic young people who want to be involved in agricultural engineering and who we can attract to become the technicians of the future. This high-tech industry can offer fantastic career opportunities and I’m not sure people know about this.”

Jack Harris, precision farming specialist at agronomy consultancy Agrovista is wishing for…

“…new seed technology. For example, if you have an area of a field which gets very dry and loses water, instead of increasing/decreasing seed rates, why not have two hoppers on the drill – one with a drought tolerant variety and one with a normal variety?”

Andrew Burgess, group agricultural director at ag conference producer Produce World, has a tuneful dream:

“I’m dreaming of my robot weeders just like the folks we used to know, but they’ll work 24/7 & never go to heaven & my weed bill will be low!”

Prof Mike Bevan, programme leader, cell & developmental biology at the UK plant science and microbiology-focused John Innes Centre, has had a nightmare before Christmas:

“My wish is to maintain long-term very close working relationships with European colleagues that have been so important for progressing crop science. There is a real threat to a key powerhouse of world science, especially agricultural science. All the work we have put into establishing multidisciplinary partnerships is being eroded. I want the nightmare to end.”

Belinda Clarke, director of industry network Agri-Tech East, is wishing on a sleigh ride…

“Just see those drones, planes, satellites taking pics from the air,
Come on, it’s lovely weather to develop a variable rate sprayer
Outside the crops are growing as the models predicted they would
And so we know next harvest, for once, is going to be good.”

Penny Maplestone, CEO of the British Society of Plant Breeders, would like to see into the future:

“Plant breeders have to forecast what the market is going to look like in five to ten years when developing a new variety. I would like to see into the future, to gain an understanding of what the farmer and enduser would like to see.”

And I, Louisa Burwood-Taylor, Editor of AgFunderNews, wish that deal flow and the number of new investors coming into the sector in 2017 will continue to grow at a rapid rate. I’d also love to interview Bill Gates and hear his views on the maturing agritech sector and what types of ag technologies his new fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures is likely to invest in.

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