Agriculture is a critical part of the Australian economy, with the country’s agricultural, fisheries and forestry sector valued at $69 billion and growing.
With that growth comes an urgent need to expand the use of agricultural technologies to ensure both productivity gains for farmers and Australia’s role in the global food system. To do this, more investment needs to be channeled into both research and commercial initiatives for the country’s agtech.
AgriFutures Australia created the growAG. program to address these needs.
AgriFutures growAG. functions as a hub for Australian agtech innovation, allowing the many different startups, researchers, investors and other key players in the industry, both locally and globally, to connect through one centralised platform. Anyone can access growAG. for free. There they will find the latest news, open research projects and commercial opportunities, among other things.
“Very early on, we had a vision that Australia could be the tech hub for the Southern Hemisphere, very much like San Francisco has been for the Northern Hemisphere,” John Harvey, managing director for AgriFutures Australia, tells AFN.
How growAG. works
Three key functions drive the platform:
- Visitors to the growAG. platform can search for commercial opportunities — open fundraises, grants, challenges and accelerators, to name a few.
- Users can also search for open research projects. Examples include an investigation into nitrogen use on cotton crops and a three-year-long project to develop a prototype machine for clover seed harvesting.
- At its most basic level, growAG. lists the people, companies, universities and other organisations in Australian agrifood tech. That includes companies that have relocated or opened offices in the country.
Harvey stresses that growAG. does not take anything from the deals that spring out of connections made via the platform. “We don’t want a cut, we don’t want any IP, we just want to connect and grow the ecosystem,” he says.
Managed by AgriFutures, growAG. involves collaboration between Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and Australia’s 15 Research & Development Corporations, which are industry-specific organisations that fund research and development projects.
Since the growAG. site launched in April 2021, it has hosted over 160 commercial opportunities, 2,700 research projects and over 80,000 users.
Startups, researchers and investors are some of the types of users that regularly visit and engage with the growAG. platform.
For example, precision ag startup DataFarming turned to growAG. when it came time to raise funding. The company’s managing director Tim Neale tells AFN he is pleasantly surprised at the level of support startups receive from AgriFutures in the growAG. environment. DataFarming launched its Series A round on the platform recently and previously did a pre-Series A round via growAG..
“The team has been super supportive, and really it’s helped us get traction and funding as an Aussie agtech business,” says Neale. He adds that growAG. being government backed adds a lot of credibility to the mission, too.
“There is fabulous engagement, about a third of our inquiries are coming from overseas. And it is actually converting to people investing in startups and research, which is one of the outcomes we’re looking at achieving,” says Harvey.
More than a platform
“We’ve seen a lot of platforms out there that don’t work because people have one look then never come back,” says Harvey. To avoid that, the team treats growAG. almost like a newsroom, with a constantly rotating selection of articles, videos and podcasts in addition to listings for open opportunities.
Critically, there is also what Harvey calls “a concierge service.” Anyone wanting to learn more about a commercial or research opportunity can fill out an inquiry form online and receive a phone call in response from, “whoever the organisation has nominated to accept those queries,” says Harvey. The initial query also goes to engagement managers at AgriFutures who have expertise in the project’s specific area.
“It’s not just a dead, standalone platform; it has a human component,” says Harvey. “At the end of the day, it’s about building relationships.”
“All of our team are connected into the ecosystem,” he adds. “And so they’re able to help somebody not just through that person’s initial inquiry, but also to introduce them to other people that might be of interest to them and their network.”
The Australia opportunity
The original inspiration behind growAG. was and still is the desire to build a thriving agtech ecosystem in Australia.
The country is home to a variety of different environments, including tropical, subtropical and Mediterranean climates. “When it comes to testing technologies, they couldn’t get a better testbed,” says Harvey.
“We don’t have subsidy-type systems for farmers in Australia,” adds Harvey. “We invest instead into innovation and that’s where we get our productivity gains from. And that investment drives different ways of approaching some of these fundamental challenges that are really common issues around the world. We’ve got great expertise in managing water, for instance. Our cotton is the most water-efficient cotton anywhere in the world.”
“Globally, there’s lots of money,” he says. “We are a new market that’s probably a little bit under-explored. It’s also quite a large market for a startup selling a product, and for investment opportunities you haven’t seen before.”
He says there is a plethora of opportunities to explore on the growAG. platform. Right now, that includes agritech integration platform Pairtree, irrigation technology GoannaAG, food supply chain solution Escavox, Beston Technologies, weather forecasting app Jane’s Weather, SureNut, vertical farming technology Invertigro, commodities trading marketplace Yarta and production systems for high value crops like vanilla (Australian Vanilla Plantations), among many others.
“There’s been a bit of a gap in the marketplace for Australian businesses to showcase their products,” says Neale. “AgriFutures is an incredible leadership position to think about how we can foster Australian businesses, especially with the amount of noise that’s around, and validate businesses and give them credibility.”
Those interested can explore, find and connect with the latest investment opportunities, research projects and relevant expertise via growAG.com.
What is “the next big thing” for agtech?