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What’s Up In AgTech?

Technology

Isadora Teich wrote this article

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You have probably heard terms like FinTech and PropTech thrown around. These refer to disruptive and innovative technologies in the financial and real estate arenas.

However, these are not the only areas of the economy being transformed by technology globally. Even though it is not talked about as often, I think it’s worth it to take a look at AgTech.

Usually, when an app or disruptive company is successful, it is because it was created to solve an important problem.

Whether this problem seems as small as “people want to travel and it can be hard to find affordable hotels” or as large as “industrial agricultural pollution,” I think it is important to keep this in mind.

In this post, we will explore some interesting AgTech companies around the world and what problems they aim to solve.

What is AgTech?

Agricultural technology or agrotechnology, is the use of technology in all aspects of how we produce, use, and distribute food and other crops on a wide scale. In this sector, innovators seek to improve yield, efficiency, and profitability using apps, automation, and other types of tech.

AgTech is currently an emerging economic sector.

While it focuses on increasing benefits for corporations, farmers, and consumers, it is also concerned with sustainability. Agricultural pollution is actually a huge problem worldwide.

Current farming methods are often damaging to the environment and human beings. Here is just one recent example, in which factory farming is accused of poisoning an Iowa river.

Let’s explore how AgTech is being approached around the world to improve profitability and reverse the negative impact of traditional agriculture methods.

MyFarmKey

In the future, will farmers keep tabs on years of yields via an app?

In Australia, this has already started.

Farmer-focused data science company Cibo Labs was founded in 2018. Over the past four years, their aim has been to help farmers make better use of their land with better information. This includes new near-real-time satellite imagery and advanced analytics.

Recently, Cico Labs launched the service and app MyFarmKey.

It allows farmers to access up to 30 years of satellite imagery on their phones, create unique digital farm records based on their land parcels, and create auditable reports on trends in land condition indicators. These include things like rainfall, which are critical for growers to know about.

What Problems Does MyFarmKey Address?

According to Cibo Labs cofounder Phil Tickle, a big barrier to tech advancement in agriculture in Australia is that many small farmers don’t have the technology to properly map their land. He says:

“Every property wanting to take advantage of the technologies will need a high-quality digital farm map in future, but most farms either do not have current mapping, and of those that do, there is a considerable variance in their quality and utility because of the methods used by different mapping software.”

In a country where there are more than 5 million individual parcels of land which need a standardized and complete form of mapping, this is critical.

In fact, Cibo Labs technology has already been applied to develop the recently launched Australian Beef Sustainability Framework (ABSF) Balance of Tree and Grass Cover Dashboard.

AppHarvest

AppHarvest is a Kentucky-based AgTech company founded in 2017 that puts the spotlight on sustainable agriculture. They aim to make production and consumption ethical along the entire food supply chain. AppHarvest is a newly public company with big goals, that is using tech in interesting ways to achieve them.

What Problems Does AppHarvest Address?

Traditionally, there are numerous problems with the US food supply chain.

For one, the process of production has negative environmental and human impacts.

For another, it is highly wasteful and inefficient. While we destroy the environment to produce food, the USDA estimates that as much as 40% of it is wasted.

An estimated 35 million Americans, including more than 10 million children, live without secure access to food, while so much of our food is poured into landfills.

From a human standpoint, this is miserable. From a business standpoint, I can’t think of any business where wasting almost half of what you produce is the goal.

AppHarvest Aims To Make Ethical Consumption More Possible

Many people who try various things to be ethical consumers, especially when it comes to food, end up in a frustrating web. They later learn that their ethical choices were not so ethical, due to the structure of the traditional agriculture business.

For example, many people switched from cow’s milk to almond milk around the same time, after learning about the environmental impacts of factory farming. This choice was later discovered to have devastating environmental impacts, especially on bees. Living ethically is incredibly complicated.

No matter what choices they make, consumers can only make ethical choices when the businesses they buy from act in an ethical manner.

Due to how the system works, trying to live ethically can seem like a losing game of moral Twister.

AppHarvest appears to be taking many steps to make a sustainable and ethical model that includes every step of the food supply chain.

AppHarvest President David Lee told The Motley Fool:

“AppHarvest is a newly public company, whose mission is quite ambitious; it’s to help make a better food and ag company, from seed to the plate. We like to think that our fruits and vegetables will be better for consumers, that consumers will vote for, for example, our tomatoes that use recycled rainwater and don’t use up all the precious resources of the globe, have no chemical pesticides, and are grown right in the United States. In fact, we’re trying to bring to Central Appalachia, Kentucky, West Virginia, for example, a brand-new industry. A renaissance from the old days of coal mining to the new days of technology-enabled renewable food.”

The Tech Behind AppHarvest

While these goals are important, the actual real-world steps being taken to make them happen are even more important.

As an AgTech company, AppHarvest is, of course applying technology to these problems. They currently use nanobubble technology to make sure the water they recycle has the maximum oxygen and nutrients.

They are also pioneering automation and robotics to help their farmworkers on the ground.

AppHarvest recently acquired crop harvesting robot startup Root AI for $60M.

They also use an artificial intelligence platform.

AppHarvest utilizes cutting-edge LED lights that are designed to use far less electricity than other tools generally used for farming. At present, they are mostly known for tomatoes, but have big plans to expand.

Final Thoughts

Both MyFarmKey and AppHarvest are really good examples of some of the problems that AgTech is being developed to solve: Streamlining data use and collection and sustainability.

This developing sector is truly blooming around the globe.

Dutch Financial Corporation Rabobank is currently looking for pitches from AgTech startups for FoodBytes!, their global food and agriculture innovation platform. AgTech is also playing a big role in Africa and is booming in China.

Like many other industries, agriculture will likely look very different in the near future.

Especially in the case of this industry, it is quite critical that it does. The social and environmental costs of traditional agriculture are high. AgTech innovators around the world are doing important, potentially climate-saving work.

About ChopDawg.com: Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.

 

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