If you’d have asked Aaron Magenheim what agriculture needed five years ago, his answer would have been “more technology.” In recent years, the rise in ag tech has introduced a host of new technologies in agriculture. Although innovation presents unique opportunities, there are also challenges.
“My team talks to about 130 start-ups every month. Today, I think we have everything we need for the next five to 10 years, but technology only works as well as the people using it,” says Magenheim, founder of Ag Tech Insight. “As an industry, we don’t know how to use many of these technologies to actually get real value out of them.”
As 2021 ends, Magenheim and other industry experts look back at the year’s emerging trends, their impact on the industry, and where we go from here.
Labor has been a constant problem for California producers, especially those who grow specialty crops, for at least ten years. Today, agriculture has been affected by the shortage in labor.
“Whether you’re a meat packing plant or a corn farmer in the Midwest, it has become difficult to find production workers or someone to drive a grain cart,” Magenheim says.
Magenheim says that it has become such a widespread problem that investors, along with major ag corporations, have put more money towards automating tasks in the past year.
“You can’t talk about production agriculture today without recognizing there is a labor challenge,” says Ron Antevy, managing director and cohead of Trimble Ventures. “We are focused on the operational workflows of helping a farmer grow a crop. How can we automate equipment, so it’s smarter and easier to use, to reduce the skill set needed to perform certain actions at a price point that makes sense?”
According to AgFunder, investments in farm robotics reached $491 in 2021’s first half, which is a 40% increase on the same period in 2020. Notable deals were made by start-ups like TerraClear or Monarch Tractor.
CNH Industrial has acquired Raven Industries to provide customers with more integrated precision and autonomous solutions. The pairing will not only improve productivity and profitability but also promote more sustainable solutions and environmental stewardship as well.
Scott Wine, chief executive officer, CNH Industrial, says, “The purchase of Raven Industries emphasizes our commitment to enhance our precision farming portfolio and aligns with its digital transformation strategy. The combination of Raven’s technologies and CNH Industrial’s strong current and new product portfolio will provide our customers with novel, connected technologies, allowing them to be more productive and efficient.”
Julian Sanchez says that the 2017 acquisition of Blue River Technology was a down payment to help farmers do more with less. “Their team actually shifted our mind-set and the way we look at the problem of optimizing inputs, as well as labor,” says Sanchez, director of emerging technology for John Deere.
The company’s acquisition of Bear Flag Robotics this past summer accelerates the development and delivery of automation and autonomy on the farm.
The move, John Marshall believes, will not only enhance Deere’s position in the autonomous space, but continue to set the company apart. “It also will further Deere’s presence in Silicon Valley, showing that it is a major player in technology,” says Marshall, IntelliFarm Director at Wade, Incorporated.
Deere bought AgriSync in December. The Iowa-based start-up was founded in 2015 and provides remote support and ticketing for ag equipment dealers.
Magenheim said that another noteworthy deal in 2021 was the acquisition by Valmont Industries of Prospera, the parent company to Valley Irrigation. Prospera, an Israel-based company, has developed artificial Intelligence technologies that use remote sensing data to detect potential problems early and provide enhanced scouting. This allows producers make quick and informed decisions during critical stages in crop development.
MOST SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT
Many start-ups were bought in 2021 but Magenheim believes that GrainBridge was the most significant.
“In my mind, the most monumental thing that happened this year was start-up Bushel buying GrainBridge, a start-up created by Cargill and ADM,” Magenheim says. “The fact that they are willing to release ownership to Bushel will be a game changer for the grain supply chain,” he says. “From an industry and adoption acceptance standpoint, it’s exciting because we haven’t seen anything like this before.”
“For us, the more that can be automated, the more benefit the farmer is going to get out of it,” says Jake Joraanstad, CEO and cofounder of Bushel.
Bushel was established in 2011. It currently hosts more than 40% of the United States grain origination. This amounts to approximately 10 billion bushels annually. “That’s 10 billion bushels of data, which is properly permissioned, that we can make more valuable for the farmer and the grain company. We are trying to embolden these relationships, so both can prosper,” Joraanstad says.
Companies also developed new products this year based on acquisitions. In March, Deere unveiled See & Spray Select – a technology that sprays weeds in fallow ground, which can help farmers reduce nonresidual, preemerge herbicide use by 77%.
Tamar Rosati believes digitally enabled crop protection is the next frontier in agtech.
“We’ve seen a lot of precision technology in seed and fertilizer, and software such as Granular Insights that helps with on-farm decision making, but not as much development in crop protection,” says Rosati, president, digital business platform, Corteva Agriscience. “Using predictive analytics combined with precision application technology, there are several exciting tools becoming available that can help a farmer better target his spraying. This area is going to see a transformation, ultimately driving an increase in ROI for farmers and better stewarding of the land.”
Imagery is a way to express your feelings
Companies that offer imagery services gained traction in 2021.
“It’s been pretty pictures for a lot of years, and people didn’t know how to use those images. Sentera and Ceres Imaging, companies that have been around at least five years, are creating tools that provide actionable analysis. The platforms are also reasonably priced, so the barrier to entry is low,” Magenheim says.
Simple Tech is a popular path
Magenheim states that simple technology, such as an app that collects data, is still a popular option for start-ups. Conservis, KipTraq, AgWorld are all worthwhile start-ups.
For example, Conservis helps farms organize data being collected from different sources and platforms, eliminate manual entry, create successful business plans, and confidently manage their cost and production operations throughout the year. Acquired by Telus Agriculture and Rabobank in summer 2021, the purchase combines Telus Agriculture’s technologies with Rabobank’s knowledge and relationships across the entire food value chain. What that means for Conservis customers is a solution that aggregates a farm’s data into a single resource.
Magenheim states that start-ups are also maturing and have finally identified what their product is and how they can deliver it to end users. The most important aspect of this collaboration is perhaps the fact that it is growing.
“Collaboration is a big trend I’ve seen over the last year or so,” he says. “Companies are realizing they’re not going to be the platform that does everything, so they need to work together.”
As the connections between major ag companies and start-ups continue to grow, not only is the trend bringing a technology to market more quickly, but they are also engaging farmers sooner in the process – a critical piece that has been missing.
“Start-ups have a certain ability and freedom to innovate quickly, with access to funding from many different sources,” Rosati says. “However, they don’t necessarily have access to the end customer required to bring the product to market, enabling a technology to scale. The connection between established large players and start-ups are important because it helps bring some of these solutions to customers in ways they wouldn’t have been able to do on their own.”
While there are a lot of great ideas out there, Nebraska farmer Brandon Hunnicutt says, “Some are very impractical when we try to implement them on the farm. Farmers must be open to sharing what is needed on their farms, and what might or may not work. Companies need to be willing to ask for out input in the early stages of development.”
“Bringing farmers along in the ag tech journey means acknowledging there is no silver bullet to solving the issues facing agriculture,” says Shubhang Shankar, Syngenta Group Ventures. “I think we need to start by not overpromising and underdelivering.”
The Outlook for 2022
Magenheim will be paying close attention to five start-ups in the coming year: Hectre and Ganaz; Intelliculture; SWARM Engineering and ARVA Intelligence.
“Hectre has developed an easy-to-use orchard management and fruit sizing software,” he says. “It is a simple app that streamlines harvest management by better tracking a crop like oranges from the field to the warehouse,” he says.
Ganaz, a workforce management platform for employers, helps them recruit, retain, communicate with, onboard, train and pay their employees. “Instead of taking 20 to 30 minutes to onboard a new employee, this app lets you do it in about 5 minutes,” Magenheim says.
Intelliculture is a farm management software designed to address three of agriculture’s largest challenges – labor, pest prevention, and machine safety.
SWARM Engineering focuses on the food supply chain and solves problems such as product blending, pricing, load planning, and inventory demand plans.
Start-up ARVA Intelligence is combining a farmer’s existing data with machine learning models to quantify the impact of current practices. “The company is taking a different stance on sequestering carbon that makes a whole lot of sense,” Magenheim says.
Shankar believes that efficiency will change as the conversation moves towards how to fix the environment. “For decades, we were chasing yield, trying to figure out how to produce large amounts of food cheaply,” he says. “It’s no longer how much can we produce cheaply, but how much can we produce sustainably. Innovation is going in that direction.”
Magenheim believes that more investments will be made in the acquisition of later-stage start-ups over the next year. Magenheim also believes that the technology will continue to be improved and that the industry must continue to remove barriers to entry. “Basically, how do we help producers, so they want to use technology more?” he says.
Magenheim sees technology innovation for animal agriculture continuing to grow.
“While technology for crop production has seen considerable growth, the animal side of things has been behind. As it watches, learns, and figures out what did and didn’t work on the crop side, animal agriculture is rapidly catching up,” Magenheim says.
Source: Successful Farming