Matteo Vanotti’s decision to start xFarm was a personal one. The electrical engineer turned IT specialist got into agtech start-uppery because of his experiences growing up on his family’s farm in Italy.
“I grew up knowing about all aspects of farm operations. I spent 10 years developing IT systems for the finance sector, and then I went back to the farm with my two brothers. And after that, I recognized how important data is for the farming business,” Vanotti tells AFN.
Vanotti launched xFarm three years ago with partners Salvatore Ferullo and Martino Poretti to help farmers collect data from their fields and activities, and use that data to inform operational and strategic decisions. The company is built on a software platform that culls information from a network of connected sensors and machinery.
xFarm’s idea was somewhat novel when it started. Now there is a multitude of ag data startups trying to help farmers digitize and optimize their businesses and manage increasingly unpredictable growing seasons.
What makes xFarm unique is that it works with partners with expertise in various data streams: weather, irrigation, harvesting, and more. The company’s platform is compatible with more than 30 different varieties of sensors and will incorporate connected tractor models starting in 2020.
“Our approach is to be a market place, not just a tech provider,” Vanotti says. “Many of our competitors are trying to do everything. We believe it’s better to collaborate.”
For example, one of xFarm’s partners is Italy’s BlueTentacles, a developer of wireless irrigation and environmental monitoring sensors that can be retrofitted onto existing irrigation systems. When farmers using the xFarm platform request irrigation-focused services, xFarm delivers BlueTentacles’ devices and integrates BlueTentacles’ water data and advice into the farmers’ xFarm dashboard.
“We like xFarm’s platform play with the aim of integrating an ecosystem of vertical applications,” Massimiliano Magrini, co-founder and managing partner of United Ventures, told AFN in an email. “In the competitive European market, new start-ups are developing to meet the needs of the agtech sector, but xFarm is one of the few startups in Europe with an open farm management platform, enabling [aggregation of its] own and third parties’ data sources and allowing in-house and third parties’ services.”
If it sounds obvious, Vanotti says that what led to xFarm’s marketplace and partnership-focused model was listening to farmers’ talk about the pain-points in their businesses.
“Being a farmer is not easy in Europe. The margins are low, their operations are complex, and we are not very efficient,” due to lack of digitization, Vanotti explains. Those issues, coupled with fragmented supply chains that deliver their products from the farm to consumers, affect their livelihoods in terms of the prices they are paid for their goods.
“If they were more efficient and had better traceability, they would have better negotiating power,” he adds.
But the farming sector is notoriously slow at adopting new technologies and digitizing processes. For that reason, xFarm knew it needed to take a holistic problem-solving approach rather than a tech-centric approach to building its farm data platform, Vanotti explains.
“We spoke to more than 1,000 farmers, and what they wanted was simplicity and ease of use—an integrated platform with all of the features in one place, not separate apps for irrigation or weather or admin tasks,” he says.
xFarm’s founders collected feedback on the types of features and agriservices farmers used most or wanted and began scoping out how to integrate all of them.
“In some cases, we developed it ourselves, in others, we sought to collaborate,” Vanotti explains. “There’s a whole ecosystem of young startups like us that make it possible to create a one-stop marketplace for all of these features and services.”
To encourage farmers to try it out, the company runs on a “freemium” subscription basis.
xFarm is designed for farmers tilling land plots from two hectares to 5,000 hectares. Most of the company’s early customers, however, were small and mid-size farms in Italy and Switzerland. It now also has a footprint in South America.
With the equity funding it has just raised, xFarm is eying growth in its home market of Italy, where adoption of digital agriculture systems and tech-enabled services outpaces other European markets, according to data from the Smart AgriFood Observatory. It is also eying expansion in South America and entry into the African market.
The company will also continue adding new features and services to its platform, like its recently launched food traceability feature, which aims to help farmers meet the intensifying supply chain transparency demands of large food companies.