From virtual farming to cattle tracking to mitigating harmful pesticides and so much more, agtech is growing at a faster pace than ever. Given farming’s long history as an industry of mature markets, it’s about time for disruption. From surging consumer demand for plant-based protein to the push for more sustainable methods of production, traditional agricultural methods are evolving quickly.
Transforming the traditional labor-heavy industry into a tech-reliant one requires the invention and adaptation of data management systems, smart sensors, AI systems, and predictive analytics. Not only do these technologies offer a shift towards sustainability, they also will improve production yields and protect against environmental challenges.
We took a look at the top 5 emerging-technology trends shaping agtech today. For each trend, we identified a representative startup that’s using emerging technology to shake up the industry. Take a look!
Swarm farming? Autonomous agriculture? Future of farming? Quite possibly! The field operations that have ruled the industry for centuries are getting a facelift. Swam farming is the act of utilizing multiple small robotics - autonomous pieces of machinery to do the job of traditional large manually operated agricultural equipment. These autonomous robotic platforms come in three sizes, which handle three different functions: smaller pieces of equipment perform scouting activities; medium-sized robots are used for weeding; and large machines perform spraying and seeding operations.
Barnstorm Agtech – swarm-farming startup
With the emergence of artificial intelligence and autonomous robots, it looks like Barnstorm may be on the forefront of swarm farming. The company combines their open platform for precision deployment with new-age equipment including aerial drones and autonomous tractors. Autonomous systems will likely reduce the time farmers spend on their machines, while contributing to machine learning optimization. Barnstorm aims to use its technology to create a fully integrated system which could allow a farm to operate independently: predicting, detecting, and communicating any areas of concern. See the startup in Scout.
Aquafarming – also referred to as aquaculture – is the practice of growing aquatic life, (mollusks, fish, plants) in freshwater and saltwater captive environments. This is one of the fastest growing sectors of the agtech industry. Along coastlines the animals can be grown in net pens or water cages. Landlocked regions house aquafarms in earthen ponds or above-ground tanks. In their respective areas, the organisms begin life in a hatchery and then move to a farm once they have reached the requisite size. From there, they continue to grow. The next step of farm-to-table production varies on the farmers, location, and species.
Aquafarming is advantageous for several reasons. First, it requires less feed to produce one pound of protein; cattle require upwards of 6.6 kg of feed to return 1 kg of body mass, while salmon require 1.1 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of body mass. Second, the majority of aquaculture farms utilize intelligent monitoring systems including sensors, cameras, and modules that measure water temperature, water quality, and other variables to gauge the health and maturity of the animals. Third, shellfish and seaweed farms can be grown in areas that are high in nutrient pollution, acting as restorative aquafarms helping the oceanography of coastlines by improving water quality and creating new habitats.
DELOS – aqua-tech startup
Aquaculture gained momentum in the 1980s with a major increase in shrimp farming; however, the initial disruption carried a significant environmental cost. DELOS, an aqua-tech based startup headquartered in Indonesia, uses a combination of marine and microbiology farm management tools to aid aquaculturists in their pursuit of creating a blue economy. DELOS’s services and products help to redirect current aquafarms as well as design and carry out the implementation of new farms. See the startup in Scout.
Vertical farming is a sector of indoor farming that uses artificial lighting as opposed to other forms of indoor farming, like greenhouses, which rely on natural light. The crops are stacked on top of one another in a vertical fashion. The stack towers vary in size from several shelves that can fit inside a consumer kitchen to industrial scale with thousands of crops and thousands of pounds of products. Smart homes allow different rooms to be different temperatures, different volumes, and many other convenient varieties from room to room. Similarly, vertical farms are able to monitor and control the temperature, moisture, and soil nutrients allocated to each individual crop’s needs.
One of the most beneficial aspects of vertical farming is that the crops do not need to be grown in traditionally rich-soil environments since they are indoors. The technology’s reliance on warehouses allows the process to be conducted in non-traditional environments, like tundras and deserts. The crops are grown using any one of three soils: hydroponic, aeroponic, or traditional.
Proterra Ag – vertical farming startup
With over 20 patents, Proterra Ag has assembled a broad IP landscape in vertical farming hardware, water monitoring, and sustainable substrates for seed-to-harvest technology. Their mission is to bring clean and sustainable growth to pretty much anyone, anywhere – while reusing 100% of their water, and without using any GMOs or pesticides. See the startup in Scout.
The increasing world population of humans means an increase in demand for food, which in turn increases the need for irrigation. Already, 70% of global water supply is used for agriculture, and the demand for water will only increase in the years to come. In order to feed the world, water irrigation management must become more efficient.
One promising application of smart-farming is called precision agriculture, which uses sensors, AI, and aerial imaging to predict weather conditions and market demand. Insights drawn from these analytics help farmers automate tasks ranging from day-to-day activities to predicting their crops’ needs.
GroGuru – sustainable crop irrigation
GroGuru has created strategic water management systems that increase production, efficiency, and reusable water quantities. The AI-cloud-based solution contains soil sensors that measure moisture, temperature, and salinity. Agriculturists will be able to monitor crop behavior, and receive AI-based irrigation suggestions for upcoming weather conditions catered to their specific crop and soil type. See the startup in Scout.
Livestock GPS Tracking
GPS tracking systems for livestock offer the promise of multiple benefits. It can boost profit and efficiency by monitoring and tracking cattle on an app or interface. This reduces the time employees spend watching the animals, as well as potentially cutting labor costs. Animal welfare is another benefit, by giving an indication of the health of animals based on their patterns of movement.
mOOVement – cattle tracking
Australia-based mOOvement offers a cattle tracking GPS system that allows farmers to monitor their fences directly from a phone. The cattle tracking system is made of three key technologies: the GPS ear tag (powered by solar energy batteries), a LoRA antenna platform for messaging, and cloud-based software for remote monitoring. Their AI software system will also store and aggregate cattle data. See the startup in Scout.
For more insights like this on other trending markets, check out the entire Data Spotlight series.