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Making agritech pay

A successful crowdfunding campaign by the Small Robot Company has show interest in agritech is as strong as ever, but how can investors ensure they are making a difference on-farm? Cedric Porter reports.

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Making agritech pay

The Small Robot company closed its latest funding round 24 hours early last week having raised three times more than the £700,000 they had aimed for.

 

More than 1,750 farmers and others invested in the round, which will help the company develop its range of monitoring, crop protection and harvesting robots.

 

Globally, investment in agrifood tech start-ups was US$17 billion (£13bn) in 2018, 43 per cent more than the year before, according to calculations by US newsletter Ag Funder.

 

There was one investment of more than US$1 billion, with others in the many hundreds of millions.


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Hurdles

 

Sarah Carr, an innovation specialist at the Royal Agricultural University’s Farm491 agritech centre, said there were many exciting agritech innovations in development, but warned of the hurdles for developers.

 

She said: “One of the main barriers for agritech companies is a lack of patient capital.

 

“By this we mean that creating an agricultural solution takes time and there is also a shortage of investors who are willing to wait around for the result.

 

“There is also limited knowledge about agriculture within the investor circle, which makes pitching to them more difficult.”

 

Australian farmer Andrew Slade, who completed a Nuffield Scholarship on the subject, said that while there was a lot of potential for agritech across the world, there was hype too.

 

Gains

 

He believed one of the problems was individual providers developing solutions to individual problems which may not provide a return on investment for the farmer.

 

He urged the agritech sector to take a whole-farm approach involving data co-operatives where groups of farmers can make production gains through the sharing of anonimised data.

 

Seana Day, of US agtech analysts Better Food Ventures, agreed agritech would only thrive if there was more collaboration between tech providers, farmers and food companies.

 

She expected to see consolidation among agritech companies, especially for in-field hardware and monitoring companies.

 

She also said more large players will join IBM, Microsoft and Amazon in investing in agtech or buying start-ups.

 

Meanwhile, environmental agritech solutions will become popular as farmers were tasked with helping to address climate change.

 

Ms Day believed that Europe was ahead of the US in this sector.

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