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Vertical farm fail, a unique agtech SPAC: AFN’s best read of 2022

January 5, 2023

As we reflect on the year just gone, we wanted to have a look back at the articles reported by AFN‘s team of journalists that were the most popular among our readers as a potential signal for trends as we enter 2023.

The top five articles of the year include a vertical farming failure, a SPAC from one of the fathers of agtech, genetic modification controversy, indoor farmed wheat, and funding for one of regenerative agriculture’s leaders.

Read on for a summary of the five best-read articles reported by AFN in 2022.

1. Robotic vertical farming startup Fifth Season shuts down

Date published: November 2, 2022. Author: Jennifer Marston

The most-read AFN-reported article highlights the continued obsession our readers have with indoor farming; articles about the category have been among our best-read since we started reporting in 2014.

This article is also a case for the old adage, “if it bleeds, it leads” – unfortunately bad news sells.

There was plenty of good news for indoor farming during the year, with rounds for Gotham Greens, Leafood, Pink Farms, and Plenty among others, but Fifth Season’s closure points to growing indications that several players in the category are at risk of failure as the arguably over-funded segment under-delivers on its promises. Our top-read guest article in 2021 was an editorial predicting exactly this by Agritecture’s Henry Gordon-Smith.

The article deciphers why the closure happened, citing the capital-intensive nature of having to run such large vertical farms.

2. The Production Board invests in Brazil’s largest ag retailer in SPAC deal to promote agtech adoption

Date published: September 15, 2022. Author: Louisa Burwood-Taylor

For the OGs of agtech, Dave Friedberg is something of a rockstar. The founder of The Climate Corporation, which he sold to Monsanto for $1 billion marking the first digital agtech unicorn, Friedberg helped created the agrifoodtech industry we all work in today. He also just happens to co-host a major venture capital podcast — The All-In Podcast — with other venture capital legends Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis, and David Sacks.

So when he announced that his special purpose acquisition corporation (SPAC) has found a target, AFN readers were understandably excited. And in true Dave Friedberg style, his SPAC took a novel approach; instead of acquiring and listing a tech startup like most SPACs out there — their performance is another story(!) — Friedberg acquired Brazil’s largest ag retailer in an effort to solve one of agtech’s biggest problems: adoption.

3. AquaBounty in murky water after accusations of safety violations at GM salmon plant

Date published: October 25, 2022. Author: Jennifer Marston

The controversy and debate around the use of genetic modification (GM) in our food supply have been one of the agrifood’ sectors biggest stories for years. Today, innovations in this area tend to focus more on gene editing which many argue is a form of advanced breeding because it accelerates genetic changes that would otherwise take place in nature over several years of breeding.

AquaBounty, however, uses transgenic techniques which involve the introduction of foreign DNA, in this case into salmon, making for a highly controversial case in and of itself. So when reports that the company had gross consumer and worker safety violations, it’s not surprise readers took note.

Photos and videos of AquaBounty’s production facility where salmon is genetically engineered showed contaminated tanks and leaks of aerosolized hydrochloric acid. The plant apparently directed water high in ammonia into its surrounding watershed and its workers lacked safe drinking water and proper first aid materials on site.

AquaBounty termed these and many other allegations ‘inaccurate’.

4. Infarm’s indoor wheat suggests we re-examine the realities of vertically-farmed commodities

Date published: November 15, 2022. Author: Jennifer Marston

Announced during the COP27 climate change conference in Egypt, Infarm’s ability to grow wheat indoors was met with a lot of skepticism on AFN reporter Jennifer Marston’s LinkedIn page, accounting for the performance of this article during the last few weeks of the year.

Commentators argued that it wasn’t a new discovery nor a viable one for food security. Check out the debate here and let us know what you think!

5. John Kempf’s innovation-forward regen ag business Advancing Eco Agriculture raises $4.7m

Date published: April 12, 2022. Author: Louisa Burwood-Taylor

Regenerative agriculture has been a buzzword for a few years now and continues to excite AFN readers with many of its leaders having almost cult offerings. John Kempf is one such leader and the announcement that his company Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA) secured funding piqued AFN readers’ interest.

In this article, the entrepreneur, who was just 18 years old when he started his regenerative farming career, tells AFN of his mission to make his farming methodology mainstream in agriculture by 2040.

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