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How GrainInnovate and growAG are building connections down under to solve global food challenges

February 8, 2024

The grain industry is a vital part of Australia’s economy, supplying 25% of the country’s agricultural gross value of production.

Nigel Hart, managing director of Australia’s Grain Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), says that given its important role in the food system — both at home and abroad — it’s critical that Australia’s grain industry fosters innovation through all available partners, including agtech startups. Tools that strengthen soils and yields, optimize input use, boost farm productivity and deliver, high-value, cleaner ingredients will ultimately help growers and food companies stay profitable in the face of climate change and shifting consumer preferences.

GRDC had this in mind when it formed the GrainInnovate Fund in partnership with global alternative investment platform Artesian Ventures.

Launched in 2019 at AgriFutures evokeAG event, the fund invests in unique startups developing agtech tools that address the above issues and other challenges for grain growers.

Since that launch event, AgriFutures has continued to provide support to GrainInnovate through its growAG platform, acting as a hub for discovering connections and opportunities, and providing strategic introductions. GRDC currently lists more than 300 research projects on the growAG site as well as 10-plus opportunities.

Fernando Felquer, Head of Business Development at GRDC. Image credit: GRDC/GrainInnovate

Building global grain connections   

GrainInnovate has invested in more than 20 startups to date, not just in Australia but globally, and across the entire agtech spectrum.

Its portfolio includes, among many others, ag robotics company SwarmFarm and agronomy platform Farmlab, both in Australia; Argentina-based grain traceability startup ZoomAgri; and Australia-born now US-based Regrow, which provides agtech tools for regenerative agriculture practices.

“The agtech ecosystem in Australia has really grown and matured over the past few years,” says Fernando Felquer, head of business development at GRDC.

“We’re seeing more startups emerge with a whole range of tech solutions that could benefit primary grain growers, from storage and transport solutions, automation, communications to on-farm technologies that enable more sustainable farming. Many of these areas are now represented in our GrainInnovate portfolio.”

The partnership with AgriFutures has helped to build many of these connections.

The growAG concierge program has facilitated introductions between Felquer himself and other investors. For example, Canadian venture studio Carrot Ventures met with Felquer and is now touring Canada to connect with other potential investors.

Australia-based commodities-trading startup Yarta used the growAG platform to learn more about the GrainInnovate opportunity.

“We first came across the growAG platform in early 2022,” explains Yarta CEO Les Finemore.

He says it became immediately apparent that the platform could generate investment leads, and because it “typically had users who had a very strong interest and appreciation of agriculture.

“It played a pivotal role in connecting us with the GrainInnovate fund,” he adds.

Yarta is now a portfolio company of the GrainInnovate fund, which Finemore says has brought the company substantial support.

“The fund has not only provided financial backing but has also been instrumental in raising awareness about our mission and the solutions we offer. This increased visibility has opened up numerous opportunities for collaboration and partnership, further amplifying our impact in the agricultural sector.”

Ultimately, he says, the fund has enabled Yarta to make its AI-based research and data more accessible to farmers, contributing to “a more informed and efficient agricultural industry.”

Yarta CEO Les Finemore. Image credit: Yarta

Global innovation for global good

​​Forging these global connections is crucial for the future of agriculture.

Australian grain growers have always battled tough environmental conditions, changeable weather patterns and fluctuating market prices and preferences. Declines in rainfall and other conditions have exacerbated these challenges.

GrainInnovate looks for companies that can provide innovative solutions, boost profitability for growers and support sustainable practices.

The fund’s criteria seeks startups working on everything from task automation to environmental sensing to nutrient efficiency. Agrifintech solutions and new genetic tools are also appealing, along with crop protection innovations, grain storage and logistics systems, and crop management logistics.

“We are investing in the kind of research and development that can ensure our grain industry not only prospers but perseveres,” says Felquer.

Nor are GrainInnovate’s goals limited to Australia.

“Many of the technologies that benefit Australia’s grain industry could eventually be relevant to other parts of the world and even other industries,” he says.

From a global perspective, some of the innovations designed to equip Australia’s grain industry for the future would benefit agricultural sectors in other parts of the world.

He adds that now is a great time to be a startup in Australia’s agriculture world. “The whole ecosystem has grown, fostered by valuable solutions for end users and vital connections through initiatives such as growAG.”

Felquer and GRDC will be sharing more insights at AgriFutures’ evokeAG event taking place in Perth, Australia on February 20-21 and Felquer is also very interested in connecting with north-American and global agtech startups around the World Agri-Tech summit in San Francisco in March, 2024.

Startups interested in opportunities with the GrainInnovate fund can visit growAG to learn more and connect with others seeking to move the global grain industry forward.

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