We Are How We Eat

Sara Ahmed Holman
· 6 min read

By: Sara Ahmed Holman, Andy Triedman & Dror Berman

At current levels of food production, in just three decades, our planet will be unable to feed everyone. Through Farm2050, experts in agriculture and technology are coming together to find solutions.

Image courtesy of Plenty

In a room the size of a basketball court in South San Francisco, Plenty is growing lots and lots of kale — depending on the crop, up to 350 times more than it would be able to grow on a traditional outdoor farm while using less than 5% of the water. Each day, experts in plant science, computer science, mechanical engineering, and farm operations study tens of millions of data points from thousands of infrared cameras and thousands of sensors throughout Plenty’s indoor, vertical farms. They use machine learning algorithms to help determine the optimal recipes of light, water, air quality and nutrients to grow the most nutritious produce faster and more efficiently. Plenty’s indoor farms do not use pesticides or herbicides and they can be built in any environment in the world.

Plenty, which is one of the highest funded ag companies in history, is accelerating the super evolution of the agriculture industry.

The super evolution of food can’t come soon enough. In just 30 years, we will have 10 billion people on the planet. Feeding everyone will require a 70% increase in food production. Meeting this demand means we need a major reset in how we grow, deliver, and consume food around the world. The consequences of an antiquated agricultural industry extend far beyond wasted food. Inefficient food production also squanders precious resources like water, land, energy, labor, and capital, while contributing to the climate change crisis.

In 2014 we founded Farm2050, an ecosystem of farmers, scientists, technologists, investors, corporations and entrepreneurs dedicated to addressing these challenges; using novel approaches with instrumentation, computation, and robotics to accelerate agricultural yield and production. Over the past five years, we’ve connected with more than 1000 companies and assisted dozens of agriculture technology startups gain access to capital, talent, partners, and customers, as well as early feedback on product and assistance with reaching product-market-fit and scale. We have provided our corporate partners access to early-stage technologies, the opportunity to help define the standard of the future connected farm, new M&A and business development pipelines, PR and marketing opportunities, and the opportunity to collaborate with other partners.

At Innovation Endeavors, we were fortunate to meet a number of founders through Farm2050 who were building companies that also fit our investment thesis. Among the companies we backed: Plenty, Blue River Technologies, Ukko, Afresh, CropX, and Farmer’s Fridge.

Five years later, we’ve reflected on the vibrant and growing AgTech community and begun to think about the next set of challenges for emerging startups. The first wave of precision agriculture technologies and digital platforms has begun to be adopted, and we believe the second wave of opportunity will come from not just increasing the quantity of food, but the quality, access (be it price, availability, or convenience), and sustainability as well.

In this new phase of Farm2050, we have broadened and deepened our partners to fill our ecosystem with thoughtful, engaged, and key players in the food and agriculture world. In 2018, Finistere Ventures, one of the most active, experienced and knowledgeable agriculture VC firms led by Arama Kukutai, joined us to co-lead Farm2050. Aside from being a thought leader in ag, Arama has co-invested in companies alongside Innovation Endeavors, including Plenty, Farmer’s Fridge, and Cropx, and has made numerous other investments that are changing agriculture as we know it.

To that end, we have also added some of the most innovative food and agriculture players. These partners include Agritech NZ, BASF, Bayer, Bunge, International Farming Corporation, John Deere, Mahindra, Microsoft, Novozymes, Pepsi, Rabobank, Syngenta, Wells Fargo, and The Wonderful Company.

Today, we’re excited to launch the next chapter and focus for Farm2050. Through active participation across all our Farm2050 members, we collectively are interested in meeting world class teams that advance the following four areas:

  1. Supply Chain Efficiency, Sustainability, and Innovative Business/Distribution Models: Some 33 cents of each dollar spent on food today goes toward processing, packaging, and transportation. Fresh produce often spends up to 50% of its shelf life in transit between supplier and retailer, with a result of about 40% of food being wasted. By leveraging IoT and large-scale data analysis to track and optimize supply chains, developing new products and coatings to increase longevity, or moving agricultural production in urban environments with robotic facilities, new companies can shorten the supply chain to drive out cost and waste while improving health and quality for consumers.
  2. Financial Security for Farmers: Net income from American farmers last year was the lowest in 12 years, and over half of all U.S. farms actually lost money. The story is even worse for smaller farmers; while 82% of commercial farms were profitable, less than half of mid-size farms and only one-third of residence farms had positive income. In emerging markets, agricultural yield is an order of magnitude lower than developed markets and has seen slower productivity growth even as the population it needs to feed grows exponentially. Most often, these problems are due to a dearth of data-driven insights to make effective decisions or a lack of access to financial products and services that would enable farmers to invest in inputs and technologies that would improve yield and profitability. With new channels to access customers and new sources of data to better underwrite agricultural risk, we are excited to see what the next generation of technology-enabled financial products look like that will empower the farmer of the future.
  3. Nutrients and Other Inputs: The Haber Bosch process, which produces nitrogen, has been the cornerstone of commercial agriculture — about half of all food grown around the world relies on commercial fertilizer. However, this fertilizer causes massive problems: it produces over 3% of the world’s carbon dioxide, and more than half of all nitrogen fertilizer applies runs off into streams, rivers, and oceans, causing vast ecological destruction. A similar story can be found in livestock, who consume about 80% of all antibiotics in the United States. While these medicines enable the growth of animals at a massive density and suboptimal conditions, such broad use of antibiotics has and will continue to drive the evolution of antibiotic resistance that will impact animals and humans alike. Leveraging new sources of data, synthetic biology, robotics, and computational tools to better design treatments and track crop/animal health, we believe that emerging companies can design fundamentally better inputs and track crop or animal health to apply the right amount of the right treatment at the right time, enabling more sustainable farm production.
  4. Next-Generation Food Products and Development Platforms: It takes restaurants and food companies years to develop new food products, a major source of stress for large companies as consumers have flocked away from global brands to healthier up-starts without additives or preservatives. Design and iteration cycles are most often done in secluded office parks and research facilities, far from the actual end consumers. By controlling the value chain and tracking produce from a single plant or animal on a farm all the way to a single consumer’s mouth, we now have the ability to analyze and iterate on new products at an individual level in near real-time. With advances in synthetic biology, emerging companies can use these insights to not just optimize within existing food products, but design entirely novel ones to deliver superior taste, health, and longevity.

We are encouraged by the vast array of solutions we are already seeing in the marketplace, but we want and need to see many, many more. This new focus will accelerate bringing solutions to market. Today, we are hosting a Farm2050 Ideation Day, a closed-door working summit where startup entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to work through some of their most complex technological, business, and strategic questions while also exploring partnerships with top executives from the most influential companies and organizations in the food and agriculture industries.

We hope to hear from startups and corporations that want to nourish humanity and the world itself. If you’re interested in joining us on our mission, we hope you’ll visit us at www.farm2050.com or reach out to us at info@farm2050.com.

innovationendeavors

Investing in visionary founders, transformational technology and emergent ecosystems for a new world.

Sara Ahmed Holman

Written by

innovationendeavors

Investing in visionary founders, transformational technology and emergent ecosystems for a new world.

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