Agriculture is collapsing: a breakdown on startup driven innovation in AgriTech

12 січня 22:45
Though often considered to be rather traditional, agriculture is well on its way turning into a high-tech industry as advancements in machinery and a growing number of startups show.

New concepts like smart & precision farming, crop efficiency, and vertical farming bring a breath of fresh air to this field, leading to what is called AgriTech or, in some cases, AgTech. A growing population, climate change, urbanization, and globalized trade are a few of the megatrends that impact agriculture and are approached with observational satellites and analytical software among others. In 2016, AgriTech funding figures dipped to 2.7 billion Euro from 3.8 billion Euro in 2015 reflecting the overall pullback in global venture markets. Still, in 2016 the deal activity in AgriTech was the strongest to date with 580 deals closed.

StartUs Insights, our unit dedicated to Startup Intelligence and Innovation Scouting, screened 950+ startups in the AgriTech industry. We discovered several innovation areas that will significantly influence the industry in the coming years. To provide extensive information on emerging technologies we decided to outline the most disruptive of these startups to highlight existing cooperation potential.


Smart Farming

The essential value of smart farming lies in making farms and fields more efficient. Emerging technologies in this field include software solutions, optimization devices, and process automation tools capable to transform commercial as well as smaller farms by generating more profits from the area of land available. The main results of this approach are the increase of manufacturing output, the limitation of expenses, and the preservation of resources.

Israeli startup CropX develops cloud based software solutions integrated with wireless sensors, which boosts crops yield and saves water and energy. An adaptive irrigation software service delivers crop yield increase, and water and energy cost saving services while conserving the environment. Through generating irrigation maps farmers can automatically apply the right amount of water to different parts of the same field.


Precision Farming

Although precision farming is related to smart farming the concept goes much further. The farming management concept also known as Precision Agriculture (PA) or Site Specific Crop Management (SSCM) is based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops. Precise decisions are made with the support of big data analytics, sensor technologies and robotics to optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources. As these decisions are made in every phase of the farming process, pivoting and instant changes are necessary to increase profits and reduce costs as well as to enable prescriptive planting.

Portugal-based Agroop focuses on farm cloud management services, such as seed simulation programs, documentary mechanization programs, and risk analysis solutions. To complement these software tools, the startup has developed Stoock, a sensor device able to monitor temperature, weather, moisture as well as the hydric balance of crops.


Farming Systems & Machinery

Agriculture experiences an increase of investments in tractor and harvesting technologies, as well as in engines improvements and storage facilities. Hardware systems, machinery and high-end devices for agricultural production are developed to meet farmers’ need for advanced technology. This entire set of technologies is aimed to increase sustainability and create a stronger confidence about risk hedging.

Spanish startup Agrobot has developed AGB®, a system that manages a set of robotic manipulators able to locate and identify strawberries, selecting and picking them based on their size and degree of ripeness. The system analyzes fruits one by one, and it is responsible for ordering cutting movements that guarantee accuracy, smoothness, and sensitivity in the strawberry treatment.


Vertical Farming

Farming has already found its way into skyscrapers, urban campuses, and general city buildings. Creative appearances of vertical farming include roof farming, farming in shipping containers, skyscrapers farming and mixed-used buildings. The idea is to replicate the entire environment through water irrigation systems, lighting supplement, oxygen and other gases available. However, it is to say that sensor solutions and management software should be initially embedded into that kind of farm.

German startup NeoFarms, for instance, introduces aeroponics to the masses by building vertical farms about the size of a household fridge, automatically growing crops. This a very clear trigger of the concept of indoor farming for personal use. The highly productive appliance decreases logistic costs while increasing area efficiency dramatically.


Crop Efficiency

While most technologies focus on improving the conditions of farming, this innovation area is dedicated to the root of farming: crops. Seed and chemical companies advance seeds that can perform in many variable conditions, and, at the same time, adapt to the current environment better than ordinary ones. In addition to that, technologies and biological algorithms are created to build crops capable of battling weeds and damaging insects.

Irish MicroGen Biotech focuses on plant growth promotion, oil field sludge/crude oil impacted soil remediation, brownfield remediation, and dredging material remediation. The startup applies “functional microbiomes” and “high throughput screening” platform technologies to develop microbial products for remediating soil pollutants, improving soil fertility and increasing agricultural yield under stress conditions.


Big Data

Innovative farmers are switching to a data-driven approach as agriculture provides them with a remarkably broad range of metrics to track – from measuring every centimeter of land, calculating the number of seeds to defining the number of chemicals and fertilizers applied. Big data allows professionals to record weather conditions, changes in soil structure, and crop efficiency and turn these factors into result-oriented value. This way, farmers are equipped to receive automated suggestions and recommendations to further improve their efficiency and business operations.

Croatian Farmeron is one example of a startup supporting farmers in optimizing their activities. Offering a cloud service for cattle farmers, Farmeron grants agricultural professionals the possibility to store valuable information about their animals, control their feeding, observe the productivity of each animal as well as to track their health status.


Drones & Satellites

Today, farmers already integrate drones and satellites into their everyday activities in order to measure & monitor fields, create terrain maps, control the quality of tillage and sowing works. However, drones and satellites are also capable to accurately present the biological parameters of plants or the mapping of fertilizer application – valuable data that can be diagnosed further. Drones allow covering large areas through remote sensing, monitoring, and control – simplifying farmers’ lives while increasing efficiency in terms of spending and time consumption.

Swiss startup Gamaya combines drones and artificial intelligence (AI) to help farmers grow their crops most efficiently and cost effectively. Hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones show changes like water and fertilizer use, crop yield, and the emergence of pests. An AI software analyzes these images, alerting farmers to changes and offers predictions.


Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT solutions are penetrating the agricultural industry at a very past pace, enabling small as well as big farms to optimize their processes without spending unnecessary resources. The technologies that evolved from the Internet of Things aim to increase the cost efficiency of fields, instantly provide farmers with up-to-date information regarding irrigation equipment, soil moisture, crop growth, and fertilizers consumption among others. 90% of startups active in this branch of AgriTech do so by instating sensor technologies and monitoring solutions that are integrated into the existing farming process, introducing what we call the mechanization process of classic farming. This process supplies the availability of tracking a great many of metrics, which, in the second turn, influence strategic decision making.

Funded with 6.8 million Euro so far, AgriTech startup Semios delivers precision data and intelligence to growers for daily decision-making that increases crop value. The startup allows to set-up a robust network that enables growers to place devices anywhere in their field, including pheromone dispensers, automated traps, soil moisture meters or leaf-wetness devices.

As the agricultural industry attracts more investors and big corporations in terms of opportunities it is changing at a rapid pace, leading to a massive transformation compared to how we know it today. Decreased cost, optimized output, and innovative machinery will support farmers in optimizing their operational profits. As the innovation areas we outlined in this breakdown are only a fraction the technologies that will impact the agriculture industry, we have no doubt that AgTech has not reached its peak yet. Artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and sensor technology will further drive innovation in this industry. Companies that act proactively and partner with startups to help them innovate and adjust their business model to gain a competitive advantage will emerge as industry leaders. StartUs Insights assists this process by providing actionable innovation intelligence on startup driven innovation in this sector.

On materials startus.magazine.