From WIA Summit 2020: Highlight on Ag Innovation

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness (October 6, 2020)


We hope you joined us last month for our 9th annual Women in Agribusiness Summit, where we welcomed nearly 700 attendees. But in case you missed it, below is a takeaway from one of the sessions (see takeaway I and takeaway II). In today's post, we highlight the Ag Innovations panel, where four innovative companies introduced their game-changing agtech disruptive technology to the WIA audience.


Today’s agricultural industry is on the verge of turning into a high-tech industry, with agricultural startups and investment in the sector growing at a breakneck pace. In fact, agtech investment spending has increased sixfold across the globe since 2013, according to PitchBook. And in last two years, venture capitalist alone have invested $4 billion each year in startups in the agtech space, and are on par to hit that number again in 2020, with $2.6 billion invested as of mid-August.

Many disruptors, from changing consumer preferences to a focus on transparency to concern about negating climate impact, are pushing global food systems towards a revolution in production to improve yield efficiency, increase supply chain efficiency, and decrease the complexity along the farmers’ value chain. How is this done? With technology of course. Initially a bumpy road as many innovators and investors hastily brought products to market without conducting due diligence with the farmers who would be utilizing the tools, but has now become a sector more focused on partnerships and collaboration, and ultimately more successes. This global digital agriculture market is expected to grow from $5.6 billion in 2020 to $6.2 billion in 2021, at a CAGR of 9.9 percent, seeking to fill the gap between the disconnects in the global food supply chain exposed by COVID-19.

At HighQuest Group, we are diligent about showcasing the latest agtech investments and products – from robotic greenhouses to digital feed sensors to new proteins made from thin air – to keep you most informed. Today, we are highlighting four innovators and their innovations, each of which was featured at the 9th annual Women in Agribusiness Summit, which took virtually September 16-18, 2020.

Migratory Bird Management

As the president of this certified women-owned business founded in 1998, Sue Hagberg, was clear in noting that while some birds can be beneficial in agriculture by eating pests, the damage by wildlife to agriculture is estimated to be over $1 billion a year. Enter, Migratory Bird Management out of Wisconsin that provides novel techniques – think lasers – to control nuisance birds.

The Agrilaser® Avix Mark II Laser works 24/7 on all species of birds and is effective over long distances, as well as programmable for each agricultural industry and property, without the need of an operator. It’s also powerful enough to work during the daylight, it's safe and humane, and it can reduce bird populations by up to 90 percent.

So how does it work? Hagberg explained, “Bird vision is very different from humans, and they perceive the green beam of the lasers as an actual physical threat; it's almost like a wall coming towards them.”

Hagberg cited examples of the ROI on the Agrilaser® Avix Mark II Laser:

· A 100-acre corn farm in northern Illinois had an 85 percent crop loss from bird damage. Utilizing one laser system on a portable platform for field rotation reduced their annual loss to just 15 percent.

· A blueberry orchard in northern Oregon, which has been using nine of the laser systems to cover 170-acres, has experienced a 90 percent reduction in birds and a 25 percent increase in average yearly production per acre.

· A dairy facility in Ohio installed three systems to reduce visits from European starlings, who were eating up to 40 pounds of feed per day.

· In the poultry sector, lasers were used to combat the spread of the Avian Flu in 2015 in 15 egg production facilities throughout the U.S., which, according to Hagberg, dispersed the birds and helped ensure that there were no avian flu outbreaks on these properties.

Hargol FoodTech

Grasshoppers… not exactly the first alternative protein choice in the U.S., but it’s making headway, and if all goes according to plan for Dror Tamir, co-founder and CEO of Hargol FoodTech of Israel, it will soon capture the world market. The startup company is dedicated to the development and production of alternative protein ingredient from edible grasshoppers, and is the world's first commercial grasshopper farm. Founded in 2014, Hargol has developed an innovative farming system to produce high-quality and sustainable grasshopper protein in climate-controlled facilities at industrial scale, positioning the company to be a leader in meeting the doubling in demand for protein by 2050.

Tamir is also banking on changing consumer preferences for alternative proteins in a market that by some estimates will surpass $5 billion in 2020. And according to a report by the Good Food Institute, alternative protein companies raised $1.5 billion in the first half of 2020 alone. Recent raises for Hargol include $3 million in April of this year (bringing the total raised to-date at $5 million) in a round consisting of existing investors including Singapore-based Sirius Venture Capital, and the Netherlands-based SLJ Investment Partners. Trendine Partners, Agriline and WeWork are also investors in the startup.

In his presentation at the Women in Agribusiness Summit, Tamir highlighted the 10 advantages grasshoppers have as an alternative protein:

1). Superior nutritional content – Grasshoppers contain over 70 percent protein and all amino acids and are low in saturated fat.

2). Neutral in taste and flavor – Easy to use in food applications.

3). Better fit for intensive farming – In a 1,000-square-meter farm (about 9,000 square feet), Hargol can grow 20 million grasshoppers.

4). Sustainable to grow – Grasshoppers are over 20 times more efficient to produce than beef, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 99 percent, reducing water consumption by 1,000 times and reducing arable land usage.

5). Healthier for humans – Grasshopper protein has been shown to reduce cholesterol in the blood and reduce body fat.

6). Most widely eaten insect in the world – Consumed by over 1 billion people worldwide, grasshoppers are a delicacy across Africa, Asia and Central America with very high demand and prices.

7). Only kosher insect

8). Clear regulation – Grasshoppers are the only insects recognized throughout the world as food for humans and animals.

9). Safest and cleanest protein source – Grasshoppers feed only on fresh grass.

10). More humane (to grow) that vegan food

Tamir noted that the edible insect market in North America and Europe is expected to reach $8 billion in the next decade, and that Hargol is working with novel food ventures for applications that use grasshoppers. “They [the food sector] are coming up with amazing dishes based on grasshoppers as a whole or as an ingredient… So we are now raising more money, because we can scale up fast, we can grow and expand our production capacity, and we can still improve our technology very significantly.”

Olho do Dono

Pedro Coutinho is the founder and senior CEO of the startup Olho do Dono, which was the winner of the first TechCrunch startup battlefield Latin America in 2018. The company also won the Best Brazilian agtech competition three times in a row. Olho do Dono’s proprietary software uses a portable 3D camera to calculate the weight of the animal in its natural environment, simply measuring it as it walks past the camera, providing a stress-free experience for the animal and the farmer.

“When managing a livestock farm, the weight of the cattle is crucial to monitor a cow’s health, genetic evolution, the right time to sell, and the financial value of livestock,” said Coutinho, noting that the use of traditional scales is labor and time intensive, oftentimes taking days to complete. Olho do Dono’s technology combines computer vision, machine learning, and data science to get the job done quickly and provide additional details about the animals that help farmers grow their bottom line.

“With access to this data, our customers have insight into livestock management. We are allowing them to monitor weight variation frequently in a stress-free manner for the animal and that's at a rate that is 15 times faster than the traditional process,” said Coutinho.

Developed in 2015, Olho do Dono has been working with early adopters thus far and recently expanded with customers in Argentina and Mexico. They are now looking to raise $1 million to expand their business.

UAV-IQ LLC

This startup company is focused on precision agriculture service with the use of unmanned drones to release beneficial insects into farmed areas, and is one of the first companies authorized by the FAA. Founder Andreas Neumann has his roots in serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Neumann explained the process, “At scale, it's another version of ladybugs out in your backyard; we just do this for hundreds to thousands of acres instead. And the great thing is there's no pest resistance. They hunt where chemicals can’t reach, like in the bark of some some plants and also underneath the leaves. And it works for both conventional and organic farms.”


Image by Thomas Ehrhardt from Pixabay

A normally very labor intensive process of releasing these insects is achievable through the use of the drones. “We can get into challenging terrains like hillsides where it's difficult to carry some of the materials,” said Neumann. “And we can also obviously work when labor is not available.”

Right now the company is focused on applications in California as the pandemic slowed their growth, but they are working with many big name companies and building client relationships via proving their product through good results.

“Most importantly for us is that the regulators are starting to become pro-drone instead of anti-drone,” said Neumann. “There's some new regulations are going to come through the EU and the U.S. this year which will allow drones to operate even further away from their operators, which increases capacity.”

~ Michelle Pelletier Marshall is managing editor for HighQuest Group's Global AgInvesting's GAI Gazette magazine and its WIA Today blog, as well as a contributor to GAI News and the Oilseed & Grain News. She can be reached at mmarshall@highquestgroup.com.

WIA 2020 Summit Nashvile

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© 2020 by Women in Agribusiness - HighQuest Partners