Investors are looking to agricultural technology as the next hot space. With populations growing and arable land shrinking, farmers are looking for tech fixes to the challenges of modern agriculture, and venture capital is bolstering a range of creative startups in the sector.
From data-driven beekeeping to AI-empowered vineyards and from satellite imagery to hydroponic greenhouses, the following startups offer a good overview of the kinds of smart farm technologies that are on the rise and the ways in which agile, tech-centric startups are changing the landscape for entry-level and seasoned farmers alike.
- San Francisco-based Plenty is out to revolutionize indoor farming, and has drawn $200 million in funding in support of that effort. The company says its super-efficient indoor setups, based on 20-foot vertical towers, can produce as much as 350 times the produce as compared to conventional agriculture. Its technique leverages technology to the hilt, using thousands of cameras and sensors to track temperature, moisture, and plant growth.
Plenty says it can get a farm up and running in just 30 days, with return on investment in just three to five years. It has said it will build warehouse farms in and near major cities to cut down on the time food spends in transit: To go from harvest to table in hours, not days. The company envisions an indoor farm outside of every city in the world of more than 1 million residents.
- Vineyard management startup AgCode assists growers by tracking field conditions and grape maturity, thus maximizing yields while making the best use of available labor. The company already claims seven of the country’s top 10 wineries among its customers and has drawn backing from Cavallo Ventures, the venture capital arm of Wilbur-Ellis.
A sophisticated data collection system covers all aspects of the operation, from payroll to chemical usage to equipment availability. Business intelligence systems track crop conditions and maturity to schedule timely work orders.
- Nectar delivers a data-centric approach to apiary management, helping beekeepers build healthy, thriving colonies through the use of sensors and artificial intelligence. Their platform delivers on multiple essential tasks including queen and brood monitoring, swarm control, and pest management.
Nectar’s system retrieves and analyzes data coming from the beehive in order to predict hive growth over the course of the year. Sensors and analytics combine to monitor and report on the state of the hive, offering next-step advice to beekeepers through all four seasons.
- Farmer’s Edge offers a combined hardware and software package that uses satellite imagery and precision technology to help farmers map and manage their land. The company has raised over $94 million in funding since its founding in 2005 and today employs over 150 people.
The company’s technology combines data science, precision agronomy, geospatial systems, soil science, and sustainability. Data analytics form the core of the offering, with a platform-based solution that helps farmers better understand soil conditions, weather patterns, equipment and labor availability, and a range of other variables to make the most effective decisions around farm management issues.
- Wefarm, a farmer-to-farmer digital network, enables small-scale farmers worldwide to communicate via text message, without an internet connection. Farmers can pose questions and receive crowd-sourced answers from other growers in minutes.
Wefarm recently landed $5 million in seed funding, led by Silicon-Valley based True Ventures. Skype and Atomico founder Niklas Zennström and WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg also joined this round of funding.
These companies offer just a small sampling of what smart farm startups have on offer, but the breadth of their products and services suggests just how vibrant and multifaceted the sector has become in recent years. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, smart farm startups are driving new levels of productivity while enabling farmers to participate effectively in an ever-more-competitive marketplace.