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Ag Tech Around the World
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that at current consumption levels, 60% more food will need to be produced globally by 2050. The world is looking to the emerging ag tech sector to meet this demand. Cutting-edge solutions are coming from every corner of the globe.
About the size of New Jersey, Israel is often referred to as the start-up nation because it has risen to become a super power in terms of innovation and technological advancement. With the largest number of start-ups per capita in the world, this country is home to more than 3,000 start-ups launched in just the past decade.
“We have seen a big emphasis on the development of the ag tech sector by the government and start-up nation in the past 18 months,” says Donald Schoen, cofounder and COO, welaunch. “There is a realization that the world is going to need more food, cleaner water, more energy, and less pollution. Israel has realized it has a resource, which is now differentiating it in the world. The country wants to capitalize on this innovation resource, especially in the ag tech space.”
In 2017 and in the first quarter of 2018, the Israeli ag tech sector demonstrated it was moving toward maturity and attracting continued global interest. This means more technologies are reaching final stages of development and are ready to expand into the U.S.
Connecting Israeli companies to business opportunities and resources in the Midwest is the role U.S.-based
welaunch wants to play.
“Our company does not view itself as a traditional economic development organization whose mandate is to attract Israeli companies to particular cities or states for local economic impact,” says Schoen. “We are more of a relationship-building organization.”
What differentiates welaunch from competing organizations, notes Schoen, is the fact that it has boots on the ground in both the U.S. and Israel. “Our team in Israel understands and works with the Israeli companies,” he explains. “Our U.S. team, with a representative in seven Midwest states, works to understand what problems U.S. clients have in their current work environments.”
Some of the trends taking place in the Israeli ag tech sector, include growing more with less, reducing food waste, overcoming the ag labor crisis, and merging food and health. According to welaunch, three key things make Israel the ideal site to ground truth ag tech advances in these areas.
1. It has four climate zones.
2. Its diverse landscape makes it easy to test new methods in different soils, precipitation levels, and temperatures.
3. It has early adopter farmers willing to experiment and implement ag tech.
One thing welaunch has seen with start-ups, and particularly with Israeli companies, is the hammer-and-nail syndrome.
“A start-up shows up and says to a potential client, ‘I have a hammer and I am looking for a nail.’ We believe in the opposite scenario for success and sustainability of relationships,” says Schoen.
First and foremost, welaunch works with U.S. clients to learn about their needs, their pain points, and their nails. Only then does it return to Israel, where there are more than 6,000 hammers, to find the right solution and provider to meet a client’s specific needs.
On the Israeli side, the team targets relevant companies and vets them through its strategic partners and also runs them through its own internal vetting process. The process is focused on three major aspects, which include:
• Relevancy to the Midwestern market
• Quality and professionalism of the team
• Readiness to operate in the U.S. market
“Once we select a company to work with, we make sure it is prepared to operate in the U.S. by providing training and preparation sessions in advance using Israeli professionals and U.S. mentors,” he says.
Already well established in the U.S., CropX (cropx.com) is an Israeli start-up that offers an integrated hardware and software system that measures soil moisture, temperature, and electrical conductivity. Data is sent to the cloud and can be accessed from mobile and fixed devices.
Tel Aviv-based Taranis (taranis.ag) is a software platform that uses aerial imagery, satellite imagery, field sensors, weather forecasts, and data from its field scouting application to predict and prevent crop disease and pest losses. Founded in 2014, Taranis monitors more than 20 million acres around the globe, half of which are in the U.S.
Living in one of the world’s driest regions, Australians have learned how to adapt their production practices to get the most out of the land, says Nicola Watkinson.
“Innovation through technology has been key to establishing Australia’s place as a global player and exporter of food and agriculture commodities and products,” says Watkinson, who is the senior trade and investment coordinator for Australia.
The country’s ag tech ecosystem made great strides in 2017. Not only did Australia establish a Cooperative Research Centre for digital technology in the food industry and complete a project designed to facilitate digital technology in agriculture, but also it successfully graduated its first class from its ag tech accelerator and preaccelerator cohorts.
Below are three start-ups emerging from Australia.
• AgDNA (agdna.com) is a farm management software platform that combines artificial intelligence with the internet of things to help producers increase yield, reduce input costs, and maximize profitability on every acre.
• AgriDigital (agridigital.io) develops software solutions to bring trust and transparency to the global ag supply chain. In 2016, the start-up conducted the world’s first settlement of an ag commodity on a blockchain between a farmer and a buyer.
• SwarmFarm Robotics (swarmfarm.com) is not building a driverless tractor but, rather, believes robots are what should come next. It is delivering a platform of new farming methods and techniques that are only possible on board a robot.
While the United Kingdom is known for its animal science, it has also proven its ability to develop and bring new animal products and solutions to market. Leading animal health companies like Bayer, Elanco, and Zoetis have operations in the country.
“In this particular space, where technologies are advancing rapidly, we believe the need for complementary strategic partnerships is essential,” says Ned Flaxman, director, Centre for Digital Innovation, Zoetis. “Through our Alliances group, we work to establish appropriate university and industry collaborations that will enable our specialists to develop the most comprehensive and valued digital solutions for animals.”
For example, Zoetis is collaborating with Hasbro Limited, Innovent UK Limited, Newcastle University, and RAFT Solutions Ltd to develop and validate technology that automatically monitors performance and behavior in growing pigs. Movement of pigs, both individually and in groups, is captured and analyzed using cameras and computer vision and learning techniques to provide information about pig performance, behavior, and group dynamics to improve the health and welfare of pigs and ultimately increase farm efficiency.