Three Agriculture & Food Trends to Watch in 2018

Leo Zhang

The agriculture & food sector has attracted an increasing number of venture investments since 2014, reaching the sector’s highest fundraising so far at more than $1.5 billion in 2017, according to data from our i3 platform. My colleague has published a recent blog post on high-profile company, Plenty, which has raised $200 million venture capital and is aiming to bring large scale vertical farming to cities. Besides vertical farming, technologies such as plant genomics, alternative proteins, drones, and more are entering the agriculture & food sector backed by large fundraising rounds.

 

With such a diverse number of innovations, we have organized three separate sessions at our upcoming Cleantech Forum San Francisco (January 22-24, 2018) for a deeper dive into this space – and trends to watch.

The core question we are going to address centers on the challenges of sustainably feeding a growing population. Our sessions are grouped into three themes – digital agriculture, sustainable food systems, and biotech applications in ag & food.

1. Feeding the world through digital agriculture

Digital agriculture, a theme emerging from the rise of digital technologies and their associated data analytics solutions, is in the midst of transforming a very traditional agriculture sector. Multiple innovations make up the various components of a digital agriculture system. The use of wireless-enabled field sensors, such as the technology behind Hortau and CropX, enables growers to more precisely control water irrigation and optimize plant growths. On the other hand, aerial survey of crop fields, via both drones and satellites, is another hot topic – with drone companies such as Beehive Technology and Nileworks, and satellite imagery companies such as Descartes Labs and Orbital Insight all raising significant rounds in 2017. Finally, data analytics is another big innovation area that is enabling digital agriculture, with software companies such as Ceres Imaging and FarmLogs deriving insights for growers to improve crop yields.

During our panel, we will expand beyond the technology hype and dive into key issues on value creation for the end consumers, and how they are driving change in digital agriculture, as well as reducing risks for early technology adopters.

2. Sustainable Food Systems – Bridging the gap between farm and table

The second session will shift away from the field and focus on the development of a sustainable food system. Again, there are multiple angles to frame this discussion, including topics such as food access, food security, and alternative food sources. Vertical farming, particularly in urban settings, is a growing trend to bring fresh produce to major cities, while reducing the environmental footprint of food transport. Plenty, along with AeroFarms and Bowery, are on a mission to build large scale vertical farms near urban cities. Another relevant trend that we will highlight is alternative proteins and the potential disruption they bring to the food ecosystem. Whether it’s cultured meat or plants/insects-based protein, we will discuss how these new food sources will contribute to the global food supply to ensure the growing population will have sufficient access to safe and nutritious food.

3. Biotechnology applications and alternatives in Ag & Food

The final theme will transition to biotech innovations that have specific applications in ag & food. Plant genomics is the foremost topic to be discussed with recent developments from Benson Hill Biosystems, Ginkgo Bioworks, and Zymergen among many others. The use of computation biology has accelerated the progress in genomics, so the next question is to identify relevant markets where it can be applied – with agriculture certainly at the top of the list. Furthermore, extreme weather conditions have also prompted the need for more stress-resistant traits, another driver to watch in this space. Animal feed is also a relevant area to ensure a sustainable supply of animal protein for consumption. Watch for companies like Calysta and AgriProtein in this subsector.

 

If you haven’t already done so, register today to attend these sessions at our Cleantech Forum San Francisco on January 22-24, 2018.

 

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