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Future Crops
Image credit: Future Crops

Chinese tech giant Tencent leads funding for Future Crops’ soil-based vertical farms

March 14, 2022

Netherlands-based controlled environment ag (CEA) company Future Crops has raised an undisclosed amount of funding in a round led by Chinese tech giant Tencent.

The new funding follows on from the startup’s seed round, which saw it secure a weighty $30 million from investors including A&F Ventures, a private equity fund linked to US-based steel magnates, the Lerman family.

Future Crops’ founder and CEO Gary Grinspan told AFN that the new capital will be used to boost the company’s R&D activities, hire fresh talent, open additional vertical farms, and “provide an on-demand, farm-to-table supply chain of precious aromatic plants that are sensitive to temperature, humidity, and lighting.”

Why it matters:

  • Shenzhen-based Tencent is best known for its consumer-facing businesses in mobile gaming, social media, and other internet segments.
  • This would appear to be its first disclosed investment in a vertical farming startup.
  • While CEA might seem far removed from Tencent’s core competencies, the Chinese company has become an increasingly active investor in the agrifoodtech space in recent years.
  • Its domain expertise in artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning tech could prove particularly useful for Future Crops’ vertical farm design.
  • Moreover, its massive footprint in Asia Pacific and beyond will no doubt be helpful as Future Crops plots geographic expansion.
  • In a statement, Tencent chief European representative Ling Ge said that the firm “supports companies creating solutions to the world’s most critical challenges, including technologies that can feed more people using fewer resources. Investments in sustainable agriculture technologies, such as vertical farm systems, align with our mission to apply technology for good.”
  • Tencent’s other agrifoodtech investments range from e-grocery giant Missfresh to FJ Dynamics — which makes automated rice transplanters — and even Canadian coffee shop and diner chain Tim Hortons.

On background:

Future Crops was established in 2016 as a joint venture between A&F Ventures and the Israeli Agricultural Research Organization (ARO).

  • Based in Poeldijk near The Hague, Future Crops designs vertical farms that grow crops in a “unique soil-based substrate,” diverging from the more commonplace vertical setups which eschew soil in favor of hydroponic or aeroponic systems.
  • According to Grinspan, this approach “is closer to nature and produces fresh, longer-lasting, higher-quality produce at improved yields, as plants grow best in soil.”
  • “Mother Nature teaches us that most plants need soil to grow. We didn’t want to change Mother Nature’s rule, but rather stick with it using technology to enhance the final output,” he said.
  • In addition to offering ‘ag-as-a-service,’ Future Crops also sells its own produce via retailers and wholesalers.
  • It mainly grows leafy greens and herbs, but aims to expand to a variety of other crops.

How it works:

Future Crops
Image credit: Future Crops

Beyond its soil-based substrate, Future Crops has developed a range of custom automation, irrigation, lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning solutions for its vertical farms.

“At the heart of our intellectual property lays our algorithms, or recipes, which are fully adapted to our soil-based system. We control more than 70 different parameters […] to achieve maximum yield at minimum costs and maximum quality,” Grinspan said.

What they say:

“I think that today, it’s becoming more and more clear that countries and organizations are looking for solutions for domestic food supply, guaranteed all year round […] Furthermore, sustainability ventures that aim to create a positive impact on our planet and our lives become an imperative, and world-corporates like Tencent and others, have identified this trend and understand the urgency to take a leading role in changing the food system.”

Gary Grinspan, founder and CEO, Future Crops

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