Smart climate agriculture is a crucial part of the climate tech sector in 2023. To this end, Israeli climate tech company AgroScout has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that places climate and crop management directly into the hands of food processing companies, farm managers and farmers.
And the time for accessible, autonomous crop management is now. Agricultural development has been identified as one of the most powerful tools available to stop extreme poverty and improve global prosperity.
But skepticism from farmers about adopting new technologies, and the presence of large financial overheads, makes introducing automation into farming a challenge. Farmers are busy, especially during the growing season. Charlie Yorke, agritech specialist at U.K. insurance firm NFU Mutual, encourages farmers to see technologies as a means to "use, implement, and learn from that data [gathered via new tech] to try and drive your efficiencies or productivity."
So, to bolster sector development, niche agtech brands have grown in prominence and number to answer the industry’s plethora of needs. Marketplaces for agriculture businesses, such as Bushel, crop nutrition-focused brands such as Bioenergy Devco and controlled environment solutions such as Aerofarms emerged to fill the niche.
Understanding the positions of the aforementioned companies in the agtech sector, AgroScout differentiated itself by dedicating much of its thinking to its customers’ agtech journey. It found that capturing data with a drone using AI with only three clicks proved the ideal solution for overworked and underpaid farmers and busy distributors alike.
Specifically, AgroScout fuses satellite, multispectral and agronomic images into its agro-data bank. Its visual technology detects field stress anomalies and verifies the findings with data, turning them into reports and dashboards on field crop health and supply risks. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) provides an infrastructure with high-scale work and the ability to support multiple sites and users.
Take a problem as old as agriculture itself: pests. The climate crisis affects the population size, survival rate and geographical distribution of the crop decimating bugs. "Certain pests are definitely thriving due to climate change," says Simcha Shore, founder and CEO of AgroScout. The Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB), for example, is described as a "devastating invasive insect," feeding on plants, potatoes and eggplants. The CPB is considered a resilient pest for many pesticides and requires aggressive and repetitive treatment to keep its population under control.
In response to this costly and time consuming solution, AgroScout provides generated prescription maps for accurate subplot treatment and variable rates that save up to 85 percent on pesticide usage. Its system uses AI-led deep learning algorithms to allow quick, efficient detection, identification and monitoring of crop diseases and pests throughout the field. Ultimately, farmers improve crop yields, reduce pesticide use and increase profits while providing their distributors with a sustainable solution to tackle climate change.
AI-led tech such as AgroScout’s also gives food laboratories, testing and analysis facilities, the potential to quantify in field carbon sequestration. "The agricultural crops are excellent carbon sequesters," says Shore. Yet food laboratories do not have the necessary capacity and infrastructure to evaluate agricultural crops in terms of carbon in-setting and accumulate these resources for this benefit, says Shore.
The data required to calculate companies’ carbon in-setting is defined, collected and emphasized in categories such as the potential to reduce inputs, measure foliage cover over time and increase yield per unit area. Forming the basis for calculating a company’s carbon credits, Shore adds that this information "will allow food laboratories to improve their carbon balance to meet the sustainability goals they have set for themselves."
Intent on changing the way agriculture is done, AgroScout designed its services to be accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Users do not need to install the SaaS solution and no special hardware is needed. It provides a wide range of agronomy insights that oversee the entire growing cycle of a crop, including pre-sawing conditions, weeds, plant stand assessment, fertilization and irrigation disorders, pest and disease pressure, and harvest readiness. It continues training its AI algorithm by adding new services and supporting new crops every season.
The state of the startup ecosystem
FoodBytes!, a global food and agriculture discovery connection hub run by financial services company, Rabobank, chose AgroScout as one of its top 2022 startups. The discovery hub chose AgroScout as a winning agtech brand for creating a new production mode in novel farming and farm management.
When exploring new agtech, it is crucial that parties research to identify the right technology, consider a whole farm approach, and invest in systems to help sustainability and increase profitability. New agtech will require adjustments in know-how, time organization, and mobilization of new functions that can affect farmers’ daily routines.
However, while management consulting firm, McKinsey, confirmed in November that agtech investment dropped from its decade-peak in 2021, a sizeable surge in capital towards startups created opportunities for smaller brands such as AgroScout. Agtech funding remains high and stable, despite being down year-over-year. The second quarter of 2022 saw a 36 percent drop from its highs in the third quarter of 2021. However, despite the drop, investment levels still represent more funding than in any other quarter before the close of 2020’s fiscal year, indicating its ongoing growth.
Digital and precision agriculture make up one-fifth of prominent startup investment themes in agtech. On average, an agtech startup will spend 15 to 20 months between financing rounds, and can expect to see funding levels grow from $3.5 million in the seed round to $65 million in series C. With agtech investments remaining strong compared to five to 10 years ago, engaging with innovation like AgroScout can mean the difference between navigating momentum and future-proofing, or falling behind competitors and failing to respond to market expectations.
Food and sustainability remain a high priority for many investors and the encouragement of bold, agile and focused startup strategies remain. Ultimately, AgroScout’s tech aims to streamline agronomic services, significantly reduce chemical use, improve yields and enhance food security. AgroScout emphasizes that this makes its climate tech "highly valuable" to global farmers and has the potential to impact farmers and corporations significantly.
"We’ve got to change the way we farm to be more sustainable and to provide for the future," says Yorke. Adaptability and actively changing farming businesses’ operations to be more productive, sustainable and here for future generations is vital.