2020 saw novel methods for processes ranging from pesticide applications to setting new standards for sustainability – paving a promising path for the upcoming year.
As farmers increasingly look to adopt new technology, the agriculture industry can expect to see more modernized approaches to traditional farming practices in the coming year – especially in areas focused on pesticide elimination practices, automation and AI.
With increased worldwide efforts towards sustainability, a major focus area for AgTech is to change the makeups and methods of pest control. For years, farmers have used mass pesticides to wipe out any parasitic critters or invasive plants. The tradeoffs of using these chemicals are as plentiful as the bounty, however. Mass pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides can permanently stunt the biodiversity of a region, altering nature’s food chain.
Up to 98% of a crop spray will drip right off of crops, defeating the purpose of spraying, wasting time and money, and polluting the environment. Runoff to local water supplies can spread the damage as well, widening the boundary of the affected ecosystem, and bringing concerns much closer to human health.
Here’s the silver lining: several startups are designing effective pesticide alternatives to help farmers limit – and potentially eliminate – pesticide use altogether. Precision pesticide applications – like sub-species specific insecticides or accurate-to-the-millimeter sprays – are giving farmers new options to protect their hard work while warding off threats without causing unnecessary harm.
Pluton Biosciences, for example, recently developed their patented Micromining process to target and attack individual species of insects that directly pose problems to farms without killing off helpful bugs and bacteria. Not only does this method effectively wipe out the perpetrating pests, but by using naturally occurring microbes that they’ve identified as toxic to an insect, the chances of that insect developing a biological resistance to the pesticide over time decline tremendously.
Another company, Marrone Bio Innovations, tackles pesticide control by exclusively creating biopesticides that are ecologically safe. The company uses technology to analyze collected native microorganism samples to harness the power of those that are toxic to unwelcome insects or plants. They then develop pesticides by cultivating naturally occurring bacteria and microbes and using them in high concentrations.
AI and automation have reached the AgTech space as well, with numerous companies relying on artificial intelligence to develop smarter systems for pesticide control. To reduce pesticide use, Blue River Technologies (acquired by John Deere in 2017) has created a popular pesticide See & Spray system that utilizes computer sensors and artificial intelligence to accurately detect and manage pest-related concerns. Their smart sprayers are more targeted and less wasteful in their application of pesticides, reducing plant exposure and in turn immunity to the sprays. Using AI in their smart machines ultimately allows for greater weed control – with Blue River claiming to eliminate “up to 90% of the herbicide volumes sprayed today, while opening the potential to use other herbicides that are not appropriate for broadcast-spraying.”
Solutions like See & Spray set the stage for farmers using artificial intelligence to not only optimize processes but also get access to more accurate information that leads to higher crop profitability in the long term. California-based SeeTree has turned to AI to create an end-to-end service that more accurately provides growers with intelligence on trees and tree clusters. SeeTree employs AI to dig deep into tree growth and focuses on providing visibility into all the aspects that make up an individual tree’s lifecycle. Farmers can use SeeTree to view health records and productivities of individual trees on-demand, resulting in more accurate and specialized management, “leading to a significant increase in [farm] profitability.”
SeeTree is one of the many AgTech companies focused on AI that has seen an influx of investments in 2020 – on December 8th, the organization reported a $30m Series B funding round. In a recent press release, SeeTree’s CEO noted that the funding will go largely towards scaling their personalized AI-driven cultivation plans within citrus, with the intention to expand into new crops like nuts and olives.
“SeeTree as a standalone solution can reduce operational expenses by 20-40%. By connecting SeeTree to tractors and irrigation systems, we can unlock additional optimizations to further increase the value to our farmers.”
Today, almost 80% of shoppers pay attention to food labels that indicate ethical or organic production. Last year, U.S. consumers spent $50 billion on organic goods – and AgTech is what will enable farmers to keep up with the demand. The strides made by adopting AI as a best practice for new and existing grow systems, coupled with the ongoing implementation of tech for pesticide reduction are a significant step in a healthier, more productive direction. Embracing AgTech could enable farmland business models to even more closely align with what consumers are looking for.
With this in mind, investors can set up the US agricultural economy to flourish.
FarmTogether makes investing directly into US agriculture straightforward – and transparent. Investors can get the full scope of potential farmland opportunities knowing that contributions are going directly to farmers striving to meet today’s technological momentum, and ultimately contributing to healthier crops in the long-term, more intelligent farming practices, and a sustainable farming future.
Disclaimer: FarmTogether is not a registered broker-dealer, investment adviser or investment manager. FarmTogether does not provide tax, legal or investment advice. This material has been prepared for informational and educational purposes only. You should consult your own tax, legal and investment advisors before engaging in any transaction.