Information and communications technology (ICT) is expected to play an influential role in the future of agriculture. News this month provides some insight into just how significant it could be: Bayer and DuPont have joined what Reuters is calling an “ag-tech investment boom,” while the startup creating artificial intelligence-based solutions for farms that supply Walmart and other major retailers has completed a $7 million Series A funding round.
Returns on commodity farmland have declined as grain prices have dropped for the past three years due to global oversupplies, and corn futures are down about 40 percent from three years ago due to large global harvests, Reuters reports. As farm profits shrink, improving crop yields while conserving resources has become more important, leading to increased interest in precision agriculture and related technologies.
Bayer and DuPont are responding by partnering with ag-tech venture capital (VC) firm Finistere Ventures, California-based private equity firm Cloud Break Advisors, Israeli VC firm OurCrowd and other industry leaders to launch an ag-tech accelerator fund called Radicle. The $15 million fund aims to reduce the time to develop, market and commercialize new technologies that can solve global farming problems. These include technology fields like genomics and plant sciences, seed tech, biologicals for crop protection and regulation, digital ag (application of data and predictive analytics to precision ag), and disruptive or novel farm systems.
Of the $15 million, Radicle has already secured $6 million in funding commitments from its founding members. The companies that will receive the money has not yet been announced. The founding members will also provide companies with advisory services, connections with top academic and research institutions, a service platform with a focus on value creation initiatives and exit planning guidance, and more.
In May, Bayer rolled out a separate $11.5 million fund in partnership with Syngenta AG and other investors, called AgTech Accelerator, which will focus on starting and sustaining new agricultural technology businesses. Farther along the food value chain, companies including Campbell Soup Company, General Mills and The Kellogg Company have also launched venture groups to invest in food and food-related technology startups.
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv, Israel-based Prospera has already raised millions on its own. The precision agriculture company uses computer vision, deep learning and ag-tech to improve crop yields while conserving resources by determining how much water should be delivered to plants in particular locations and identifying issues such as pests, disease, irrigation problems, nutrient deficiencies, and suboptimal agro-technical activities.
Prospera’s artificial intelligence (A.I.)-based solutions are already operational in medium to large greenhouse farms across Europe, North America and Israel, Venture Beat reports – farms that supply some of the largest grocery chains in Europe and the United States, including Walmart, Tesco, Sainbury’s and Aldi. The company’s traction has led to the close of a successful Series A funding round this week, attracting $7 million from investors led by Bessemer Venture Partners.
“Prospera is generating unique and proprietary data on crops at a level of granularity which never before existed in the agriculture world. Combining this unique data with some of the best experts in computer vision, and machine learning has the potential to revolutionize the way we grow food,” Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher said in a statement. “As investments in AgTech are anticipated to continue rising this year, we are pleased to be working with this unique company that is optimizing crop yields based on proximal imaging and deep learning technology.”
The startup was founded in 2014 by computer scientists, who explain that their solutions empower farmers with real-time analysis of what is happening to their crops on a leaf-by-leaf or multi-field, multi-crop basis using in-field cameras and climatic sensors. By tapping into this data, Prospera turns farming from an intuition-based practice into an optimized data science.
“The agriculture industry is a great candidate for applying pragmatic A.I. Prospera is aiming to lead the way to making agriculture intelligent and efficient with technology by solving the key pain points of growers globally,” said Daniel Koppel, CEO and co-founder of Prospera. “Recent breakthroughs in neural networks, combined with the commoditization of cloud computing and sensors, have made it possible for us to develop field-analytics solutions that predict and improve performance in a new and revolutionary way.”