What to Look For Next in AgTech: Hear from Innovators in Agriculture
The Agriculture Industry is rapidly evolving to meet the needs of a changing planet. At the recent edition of our ‘The World in 2030’ Meetups, we listened to unique perspectives and key advice from four fascinating change-makers across the industry. These invited experts shared first-hand knowledge and tips with nearly 100 guests, all curious about what’s evolving in AgTech.
Below we offer some major takeaways from our panelists at this event. Hopefully this helps people interested in developing solutions move their projects forward.
Our moderator Nadim Choucair from 2030 Cabinet framed the Meetup discussion through a lens of the UN's Sustainability Development Goals (SDG). Despite a sobering reminder of how much more we need to do work towards these sustainability goals, Nadim sparked a discussion around current progress that offered helpful reminders of top priorities to attendees.
Nadim kicked off the panel inquiring what type of world the panelists are aiming for in 2030.
Dominik Ewald from MonitorFish mentioned expectations for high digitalization and automation, animal welfare, and international alignment/global action. He later warned against the risks of monoculture, saying that biodiversity is important when for example, 80% of a banana crop get infested by a fungal disease. He added that farmers are very open to new business models and they want to discuss possibilities.
Dr. Robert Gerlach from Threebility and Atlantic Food Labs discussed “resilient agriculture” where complexity and biodiversity are embraced. He talked about sequestering carbon via carbon farming and accelerated global afforestation initiatives, how to ensure high survival rates of seedlings and trees, and choosing species biodiversity that can withstand future climate conditions. He says tech won’t replace farmers but rather it can diversify their skill sets.
When the panel was asked about what type of tech lies ahead, answers included: identifying image analysis, drone-based services such as drone seed, and smarter sustainability focused incentives, e.g. for companies who who can trade carbon credits with farmers and forest owners.
Matthias Schmidt-Rex from SmartHectar Innovations brought an international perspective from experience in West Africa and Southeast Asia. He stressed that gaining more self-sufficiency of food production is critical for Africa which imports 40 Billion USD per year. For example, food that otherwise would be considered waste due to EU regulations (although still fine to consume) gets exported to Senegal and sold at prices local farmers cannot compete with. So there’s a real need to help startups local to the region find the right partners.
SmartHectar Innovations aims to bring players together that can improve people’s lives in their business and apply existing technologies. Since population growth will happen more rapidly in the southern hemisphere, solutions need to stem from there. A lot rests on education, he adds, saying that a best approach might be convincing corporates to test with startups to reach tangible results more quickly.
Close the Knowledge Gap
Dr. Carl-Philipp Ferderolf comes from both a farming family and academic background. He brings a sustainable farming approach from Yara International who has offices in 60 countries all over the world. Yara’s digital farming unit focuses on two areas: 1) the professional farmers who do farming as a business and 2) smallholder farmers in the developing world. Carl notes that although science builds up a knowledge base, there's a knowledge gap between academia and the farming world.
He says digital farming helps farmers access knowledge; sensing and weather data help them make better, more-informed decisions. He gave an example of N-sensor, a sensor that reads Nitrogen uptake and addresses crop variability. For open field farming, weather is the biggest challenge; giving farmers access to local weather information would make a big difference.
Be the Change!
In order for startups to have high impact and ward off skeptics, panelists agreed on a few things:
We need slim versions of solutions that can work in different environments
We need to convince people that sustainable solutions can make money
Engineers can’t do everything; there must be interaction with suppliers
There should be a greater understanding of hardware devices
Find your business case and interact with companies in both hardware & software
Robert from Threebility says that beyond the moral case, sustainability makes good sense because:
1) Adopting sustainable practices can save money, for example by avoiding soil erosion, and saving on water and fertilizer costs.
2) There is rising consumer demand for sustainable and organic products; just look at Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, for one.
3) Investors and funds look at sustainability, so it will be somewhat easier to access funding if your business is sustainable.
4) Governments are reacting to public pressure in the form of tightening regulation, so it’s another good reason to push for sustainable approaches.
5) The most compelling marketing of sustainable products and services happens when there is a convincing alignment between a corporate's values and its actions.
Nadim wrapped up with final words from each panelist in which they collectively suggested:
Look for big and existing problems; seek the largest way to contribute to a sustainable world; work with partners and speak to as many people to understand the best solution; be ready to pivot!
Next Big Thing AG (NBT) is a Berlin-based IoT company builder that provides a complete framework for founding, incubating, and accelerating IoT ventures. If you think AgriTech could improve your business efficiency — or even open up completely new business models — we can help you make it happen.
Get in touch if you are working on a project in this area and think we could help.
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