When our nation was founded 241 years ago, farming was the
economy’s primary driver. By 1870, nearly half of the employed population held
jobs in agriculture. Today, it’s a $3 trillion industry - but only 2% of Americans
hold a farm-oriented job.
This is, in many ways, thanks to technology. Tractors and
other automation advances in the 20th century let large farms shift management
to only a handful of people. But this, paradoxically, has also slowed things
down in the 21st. With only a few people working every farm, there’s not a lot
of time - or incentive - to innovate.
“You only get 40 attempts at farming. From your 20’s to your
60’s, you get 40 seasons,” says Duncan Logan, the founder and CEO of
RocketSpace, a tech accelerator company. “In tech, you get 40 attempts in a
But even farmland isn’t immune to the information
revolution. Today, there are hundreds of agriculture tech startups around the
world, and some experts say the situation reminds them of the early days of the
internet: There’s a lot of activity in agriculture, but no clear winners yet -
it’s hard to say who might become the Facebook or Amazon of the scene. Couple
that with climate change pressures, the fact that two billion more people will live
on this planet by 2050, and that just 40% of the world’s land is available to
grow crops, and you have yourself a market ripe for innovation — and big money.
“The ag tech space right now is in a very unique position.
You can’t ignore the fundamentals,” says vice president of Business Development
at AgTech Accelerator Corp., Corey Huck. “You have to produce a lot more crop
on limited acres, and 70% of fresh water is already being used in agriculture.
We have to do more with less at the end of the day and the only way you can do
that is with technology.”
From irrigation hardware engineered to beat the drought to
biotechnology startups cultivating future cash crops, Forbes has
identified the 25 most innovative pieces of burgeoning technology in this
space. Together, they have more than $400 million in financing. Those
investments come from the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
Kholsa Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Monsanto Ventures and
Andreessen Horowitz, as well as in-house venture capital arms like Campbell
Soup’s Acre Ventures. Even President Barack Obama’s former White House chef is
getting in the game.
To find the 25 ag-tech startups that carry the most
potential, we surveyed the agricultural technology landscape by speaking with
experts, venture capitalists and accelerators; then, we examined financials and
each company’s agricultural credentials. A special thanks goes to Seana Day at
the Mixing Bowl for her comprehensive research on the ag-tech environment.
vineyard management company helps winegrowers track harvests, field conditions
and grape maturity in order to maximize yields and manage labor. Oenophiles are
on board: seven of the country’s top ten wineries use AgCode’s technology. Ag
cred: in February, scored an undisclosed investment from Cavallo Ventures,
the VC arm of Wilbur-Ellis.
startup produces nut and citrus orchard management software that uses satellite
data. The data is granular enough to provide tree-specific information, like
the size of the canopy or the trunk diameter. The company expects to break-even
in 2017 with $3 million in sales. Ag cred: Has raised nearly $9 million
at a valuation of about $30 million.
Monsanto executives lead this startup, which is developing a new cash-crop
called pennycress that can be added to field rotations between corn and
soybeans. The winter cover crop protects the soil from erosion and soaks up
nitrogen pollution - and makes money for farmers. Ag cred: Monsanto
Ventures led the last funding round.
a patented oxygen management technique that extends the shelf life of fresh
protein, BluWrap allows fresh protein suppliers to ship by ocean rather than by
air, saving on costs. Ag cred: Anterra Capital, the international food
and ag growth VC, is an investor in the company, which has raised $18.6
livestock manager is helping cattle farmers keep better track of their herds
using cloud technology. Bovcontrol tracks inventory, vaccinations, nutrition
needs and more. Ag cred: The company’s software is used by farmers in
every continent (except Antarctica).
demand for hyper-local produce is booming, and BrightFarms is building and
operating greenhouses in urban and suburban areas. The company partners with
supermarkets like Giant, ACME, and Pick-n-save and puts the farm at or near the
store to maximize produce freshness. Ag cred: The company has raised
$57.9M in equity to date.
Clear Labs: This
science startup is making a database of the world’s food supply by studying
food on a molecular level. The goal is to use the information to help food
retailers pick the best suppliers and avoid the next crippling food borne
illness outbreak. Ag cred: Per Pitchbook, has $21.2 million in funding; investors
include Khosla Ventures and GV.
CropX: An Israeli
startup, CropX sells cloud-based software which aims to boost crop yields by
focusing on saving water and energy. With in-field sensors, the system
automatically delivers the correct amount of water to each plant instead of
watering a whole field at a time. Ag cred: Founded in 2013, the company
has raised $10 million.
Farmer’s Edge: A
hardware and software product that uses satellite imagery and precision
technology to help growers identify, map and manage farmland variability. Ag
cred: To date, the startup has raised $94.3 million in funding.
Farmer’s Business Network: This big data company connects over 3,400 small farms with
open data about yields, supply prices and other information that lets them
compete with large operations. Ag Cred: Raised over $83 million in
funding from the likes of GV and Double Bottom Line Partners.
online marketplace for grain, FarmLead lets grain growers expand beyond their
local market and sell to the best bidders. Buyers and sellers can register for
free, and deals are negotiated anonymously. Ag cred: Monsanto Growth
Ventures led their Series A.
average food recall costs companies $10 million. FoodLogiQ aims to reduce those
costs by using data to track a supply chain (i.e, food) from the farm to the
fork, ensuring the correct foods are recalled. Ag cred: Works with more
than 3,500 food companies, including Whole Foods, Subway, and Chipotle.
Full Harvest: 20
billion pounds of "ugly" produce go to waste in the U.S. each year.
Full Harvest is trying to reduce that waste by building a B2B marketplace where
growers can connect with food companies to offload surplus or imperfect
produce. Ag cred: Won the Innovation Award at United Fresh, one of the
biggest produce conferences in the U.S.
retailers stay nimble with the help of data-driven software to help them track
everything. Granular’s software does this for farmers, allowing them to
prioritize their workforce, monitor profitability, forecast revenues and more. Ag
Cred: Raised over $24 million in capital from likes of Andreessen Horowitz,
Tao Capital Partners and Khosla Ventures.
startup’s software allows farmers to visualize their entire fields in an
instant, highlighting areas where resources need to be directed and
benchmarking crop performance. Ag Cred: Have raised over $22 million
from the likes of Bloomberg Beta, Crosslink Ventures and more.
is making a non-toxic gel-like soil additive that helps seeds get farther on
less water. It works by holding extra water near a plant’s roots and releasing
it was the soil dries out. Ag cred: a field test from UC Davis found the
product provided 30% yield increase for broccoli - using 25% less water.
Produce Pay: Founded
at Cornell University in 2014, this supply chain startup aims to fix cash-flow
problems by paying for the product the day after it is shipped, rather than the
typical 30 - 45 day waiting period. Ag cred: Its total funding is $13.4
million from the likes of CoVenture and Menlo Ventures, along with $70 million
in debt financing.
financiers are bringing blockchain technology to the food supply chain. Its
algorithms crunch data to calculate sustainability scores, as well as scores
for spoilage and safety levels. Ag cred: Joined the first cohort of the
Terra Accelerator, backed by Rabobank, RocketSpace and Nestle USA.
precision ag company with a fintech side that pays producers or companies along
the supply chain when systemic risks like drought or flood occurs. The startup
expects $2 million in revenue by the end of the year. Ag cred: Raised
$3.5 million ahead of its series A.
claims to be “the world’s fastest food pathogen detection system" by
detecting a bug within 6 hours. Its products can detect pathogens and listeria
in plants. Ag cred: Has raised more than $30 million from the likes of
Campbell Soup’s VC Acre Venture Partners and Sam Kass, the former policy
advisor and personal chef to President Barack Obama.
Spensa Technologies: Its
software lets farmers record, upload and track observations about their fields;
its Z-Trap hardware allows farmers to track pests in the fields by trapping and
identifying bug species. Ag Cred: Developed hardware with a National
Science Foundaiton grant; has raised over $5 million in outside funding to
Brazil-based ranch management startup that sells a pest monitoring application
which allows farmers to monitor and decide how to treat infestations. Ag
cred: Has raised $5 million from the likes of Qualcomm Ventures.
SWIIM: The patented
process behind SWIIM, or Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation
Management, monitors water budgets and computes data. This allows a large-scale
water user, like a farm or a utility company, to better manage usage. Ag
cred: Partners include Western Growers Association while CA's Metropolitan
Water District is a client.
Oakland-based company that is cultivating the pongamia tree, which is native to
Australia and India, on American soil. The trees produce an oilseed with 10x
more yield than soybeans and have the potential to create a biofuel
alternative. Ag cred: Company is valued at $32 million after raising
about $15 million.
Trace Genomics: It’s
23andMe for soil health: using machine learning and genomics testing, Trace
Genomics can ID microbes and other biological data in soil, helping farmers
maximize yields. Ag Cred: It’s raised $4 million to develop their tech
and has worked with big ag concerns like the Western Growers Association and