Forecast Recognition

Iron Man might just have become Climate Man.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s venture fund was one of several to take part in a $12M Series A round for forecast-focused startup ClimateAi. The new tech tool aims to help make agriculture more profitable and food systems more resilient through artificial intelligence climate forecasting.

Learning about clouds on the cloud: So meta. Farmers know weather is a main hurdle to jump each year. Talks about climate change are like the temperatures predicted: on the uptick.

The World Meteorological Organization predicts a 90% likelihood we’ll see the hottest year on record between 2021 and 2025. Looking forward to it…?

Climate Avengers: ClimateAi hopes to help the agricultural supply chain predict the weather to help minimize its climate risk exposure. Their science aims to forecast extreme weather events more than two weeks before they occur, thanks to machine learning and loads of data points.

This is the same technology that powers successful rocket launches. You’re welcome, Jeff Bezos

Specifically, this could help the food supply chain by:

  • Identifying new locations for climate-smart expansions for specific crops and ingredients
  • Managing inventory better to avoid shortages
  • Forecasting pressures from pests and diseases

SoundbAite: “ClimateAi is a platform that provides long-term insights into weather and climate impacts, providing businesses the information they need today to take the actions needed now to adapt to the climate disruptions of tomorrow.” – Jon Schulhof, co-founder of FootPrint Coalition Ventures.

Taking it global: ClimateAi has ambitious goals to be deployed across half a billion acres of farmland around the world in the next three years.

Ag Data Watch Dogs

Who’s watching your farm data?

A better question for farmers might be… who isn’t watching your data?

And could NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) be the solution? NFTs allow people to purchase and own “original” data content and are based on blockchain technology. They’re entirely unique and have software code consisting of smart contracts: once one is minted onto a token on the blockchain, it’s permanent.

In an agricultural setting, this means an AgTech company would attach an NFT to a specific dataset that would be uploaded to its servers and could create a single dataset for its farmer-data-originators. Any copies made of this data would violate the owner’s permission.

Backstory: Currently, there’s not much oversight in place to look out for farmers and how their data is used. At this point, Ag Data Transparent (ADT) is the only organization doing that work.

“ADT certifies companies that commit to be transparent about how they collect, store, use, share, and delete farmers’ ag data.” And they have certified almost 30 AgTech and ag industry legacy companies in a few years.

Who’s behind this ADT? A few farmer-trusted organizations including the National Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and national commodity organizations.

The bottom-line: “Datasets that work for farmers need to be created,” said Bill Northey, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. More than anything? Farmers need to feel comfortable knowing who has access to their data.

Mic(robes) Drop

Fact: soil health fanatics can be the life of the party.

Also fact: soil health fanatics might just be saving the world.

Or at least that’s what one Arizona-based soil science startup is trying to do. MyLand is a soil health company that believes “healthy soil gives us healthy food, healthy people, and a healthy planet.”

And Canada-based Ag Growth International (AGI) is saying “us too!” They are acquiring a minority stake in MyLand so they can have a seat at the board table and install some of the MyLand systems throughout North America.

Soil systems service: The systems AGI wants to install would extract live, native microorganisms from a farmer’s soil and reproduce them in mass quantities. Those organisms are then integrated in a farm’s irrigation system to deliver them back to the ground. It’s like a chocolate fountain, but with soil.

Laying the groundwork: The MyLand system has been in development since 2010 and is unique in that it’s a service-based subscription model with a monthly fee. There’s no up-front cost, and farmers get full benefits of the cost savings, increased yields, increased land values, and carbon captures.

The president and CEO of AGI says this implementation of regenerative agriculture technology like MyLand’s is “critical from a sustainability perspective.”

Successful soil story: A farmer in the Arizona desert was able to increase organic matter from less than 1%  to more than 3% in a three-year period. Of course, the total impact of the technology depends on plenty of variables, but the company has proven results that continuous use of the MyLand System reduces input costs and increases yields.

Next up: The company is planning flagship soil health centers in Florida, California, and Texas to increase interaction with farmers.

Swipe Right on this Phenotype

A new corn trait is in town, and farmers will say yes, please and thank you.

Counting the kernel: Pairwise, a new startup company from the Leaps by Bayer program, has created a new corn phenotype that will have farmers counting more than the usual 16 rows on an ear of corn – an exciting possibility for future yields.

They’re field-testing the corn now, and the company is optimistic farmers could see this trait offered in the pipeline in the next couple of years.

Soundbite: “So, the traits that we’re working on are actually around increasing the amount of productivity per acre that a farmer would see on a per-plant basis in the field,” says Ryan Rapp, chief technology officer for Pairwise.

“That is pretty different than what’s going on in agriculture. Historically, we’ve reached higher yield because we’ve used higher plant density. This is actually about making each individual plant produce better.”

Science says… Most of the time, new transgenes can take up to 10 years from testing to implementation in the field, but with proven science from Bayer and the focused approach from Pairwise, they’ve fast-tracked this to just two years.

This trait would be added to traditional corn hybrids through “stacking” – where scientists can offer a trait portfolio package to farmers to suit their specific needs. Talk about service.

Fields of the new high-count kernel corn plant are being tested in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota.

Robots Picking Rocks. It’s Genius.

Those long, dusty days clearing rocks from fields may become a thing of the past.

The rundown: TerraClear, creator of an innovative field rock-picking system, recently announced a $25 million Series A funding round.

Better than back-breaking: Attach the Rock Picker to a skid steer or compact track loader, drive through the field, and let the Rock Picker do the rest. No more repetitive and monotonous heavy lifting, saving time and labor needed to clear fields.

Pick-up line: “There are more than 400 million arable acres worldwide that have been waiting for a cost-effective and productive solution to this problem,” noted TerraClear founder and CEO Brent Frei.

By the numbers:

  • 400: The average number of rocks picked per hour.
  • 300 pounds: The largest rocks the picker can lift. Whoa.

After releasing the Rock Picker earlier this year, TerraClear quickly sold out. But due to this latest round of funding, machines are being built and orders are being taken.

And that’s good news for those medium-to-large farms that spend $5,000-$150,000 annually fixing equipment busted by rocks.

Oh, and this: It’s not just the Rock Picker. TerraClear uses drones and artificial intelligence to create a “rock map” of a field. This allows the landowner to plug in the coordinates and drive straight to the issue.

Future state: Using computer vision and automatic hydraulic controls, the AutoPick technology currently under development will rock your world. Rocks will be identified and picked up all via pure automation.

Fundraisin’ Roundup

Sustainability is the name of the game for these startups who recently raked in new piles of investment dollars.

Here’s a snapshot of where agtech startup bucks are headed for environmentally-friendly microbes, biofertilizers, and biomolecule injections:

1. The biofertilizer biz. Kula Bio recently raised a cool $10M in a seed round led by Collaborative Fund, which hosts notable nature-conscious groups like The Nature Conservancy and Lowercarbon Capital, to name a few.

Specializing in sustainable nitrogen solutions, its Kula-N product is a next-generation nitrogen biofertilizer that helps farmers maintain yields while lessening the impact of traditional fertilizers.

2. Citrus’ savior? Invaio Sciences came up with almost $89M in a Series C round led by Flagship Pioneering. One of its focus areas is preventing Citrus Greening Disease by injecting a natural peptide straight into the crop versus spraying crop protection products.

Besides citrus, Invaio is working on products to help olive and perennial customers. Since its founding in 2018, Invaio has been in a steady R&D phase but plans to have products on the market by 2022.

3. Paring down the phosphorus. Earlier this month, Israeli startup GroundWork BioAg closed on $11M in venture financing.

Mycorrhizal inoculants are the new, shiny science behind maximizing yields while reducing the need for phosphorus fertilizers. While conventional farming practices typically destroy mycorrhiza and other microbes that occur naturally in the soil, Groundwork BioAg hopes to reverse the trend. It also sequesters carbon. #win-win

JBS Gettin’ Digi(tal) With It

JBS is having its own Inception moment.

The global meat player has created a blockchain platform that allows suppliers of JBS to register, well, their own suppliers.

In April, beef cattle producers began registering animal sellers on the Transparent Livestock Farming Platform, an initiative sponsored by JBS.

The goal is for all suppliers to comply with socio-environmental criteria for breeding beef cattle in the Amazon Biome.

Translation: The Federal Prosecution Office will use data received from the tool to look for any occurrences of deforestation, hard labor, invasion of indigenous lands, or other non-sustainable practices.

Playing by the rules: The results are sent to the JBS supplier, who now has a crystal clear view of socio-environmental compliance in his full supply chain. If there are issues, the supplier can create plans to dissolve the risks and assist producers in doing the right thing.

Ecotrace created the tool for JBS, but it is an open platform, so anyone in the industry can use the system.

And while that might sound a little sketch, blockchain technology keeps third-party information confidential, and JBS can only see the consolidated analysis of suppliers… aka no sensitive information.

Future state: Right now, signing up is voluntary, but by 2025, any cattle supplier interested in selling to JBS must be registered on the platform.

A Swing for the Vences

Thanks to a recent $12 million investment in a San Diego startup, a whole boatload of ranchers will soon be rotating their herds across rangeland without running another strand of wire.

“Oh, oh, it’s magic.”: Well, not really, but it is cutting-edge. With the help of GPS and some high-tech wearable collars, the Vence Corporation is providing ranchers with a 21st-century solution to open grazing and pasture rotation.

How it works: Using an app on his or her phone, a producer sets an “invisible fence” boundary by inputting GPS coordinates. Then, just strap a collar around Bessie’s neck, and she’s free to roam.

As a cow approaches a boundary, the collar emits a warning noise. If it ignores the warning, then it’s encouraged to turn around via a light electrical shock–just like an electric fence.

Oh, and this… It’s not just for keeping the herd venced in. Sensing the animal’s direction of movement, the collar also uses noise and shocks to herd the cattle to the next paddock.

But it’s about more than pasture management. With U.S. grasslands being the largest land-based carbon sink globally, preventing overgrazing by simplifying pasture rotation is a slam-dunk for combating climate change.

Where this goes: With the company’s new cash on hand, the 5,000 farmers lined up to get the service won’t have to wait long. And Vence plans to move forward with more R&D to service even more livestock producers.

Nothing Turtle-Like For This Growth…

Tortuga AgTech is ramping up to build hundreds of automated harvest robots, and the company has producers pickin’ and investors grinnin’.

Refresher: In 2017, Tortuga secured $2.4 million in seed capital to begin designing robots that could harvest fresh, delicate fruits grown in controlled environments (AKA — greenhouses). They began designing the robots for strawberry harvest, and by 2019, they’d scraped together another $5 million to further refine the product.

And now, this: Venture capitalists, including big-wigs like eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and Tesla co-founder Marc Tarpenning, have climbed aboard the harvest train…in a big way. A newly announced Series A round will dump $20 million into Tortuga’s bank accounts.

The startup will use the cash to build hundreds of new robots that will pick berries in 2022. Using a grower-contracted model of traveling robots, the funds will also be used to pay employees operating robot fleets.

With a unique history of putting growers first during research and development, investors see big things on the horizon for Tortuga. Larry Page, managing director of Lewis & Clark AgriFood, put it this way: We believe Tortuga can be the world leader in on-farm technology and automation.

While we’re here: AppHarvest, the Nasdaq-listed high-tech greenhouse startup, is getting in on the robot action as well. The company purchased Root AI, a robotics-focused firm that claims that its Virgo robots are the world’s first “universal harvester.”

The price tag?
 A cool $60 million.

There’s No Business Like Drone Business

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…another drone company.

Guardian Agriculture, a Boston-based startup, just deposited a batch of seed money from seed businesses. $10.5 billion from big-time players [Bayer, Wilbur Ellis, FMC] will help this startup bring digital farming to America’s farmers with its first drone system for crop protection application.

Ready for liftoff.

The autonomous vehicle is called an “eVTOL” – electric vertical takeoff and landing. Each drone has the capacity to spray or fertilize up to 40 acres per hour on pre-planned routes. The drone collects and acts on data to reduce product waste.

The drone’s benefits could be three-fold:

  • Extend growers’ reach
  • Reduce environmental impact
  • Minimize product resistance

When these flying sprayers go out into the big, big world, they “are capable of eliminating hundreds of millions of pounds of unnecessary pesticide use annually while helping farmers grow healthier, better-protected crops.”

You can drone your own way.

Rather than being an expensive up-front cost to farmers, the drone would be offered as a service – which is how crop-dusting services are currently offered. The service ranges from $10 to $45 per acre based on Guardian’s surveys of farmers. There’s no upkeep for farmers, either.

What’s ahead: With $20 million of preorders on the docket, Guardian will ramp up manufacturing to ship out drones to early-adopting farmers in Florida and California.