Farm Progress

Summit blends high tech with agriculture

Slideshow: The ag tech marketplace has exploded over the last decade, and it’s expected to continue growing at a rapid pace, as seen at Agri-Tech Innovation Summit.

Andy Castillo

April 2, 2024

9 Slides

From automated sprayers and drones to self-driving tractors and farm business software, tech advancements are changing the way farming gets done. The slideshow offers an exclusive look at the technology that could wind up on your farm or office five years from now.

Why does this matter? Ag tech is a burgeoning industry that’s expected to continue its upward trend for the foreseeable future. Investment globally has increased steadily over the last decade, from $1 billion in 2012 to more than $10 billion in 2022, according to AgFunder’s Global AgriFoodTech Investment Report 2023.

There are few places in the United States where this investment is more evident than at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit, held annually in San Francisco.

“Ag tech is no longer a farmer in the field with a pitchfork. The level of sophistication in the field is huge,” says Marcelo Pomeranz, an associate with global law firm Cooley, which focuses on life sciences. The firm helps small and midsized ag tech startups with litigation and patent protection.

Large tech brands like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, which haven’t historically had a footprint in agriculture, are also trying to catch the wave. As a result, agriculture is awash in new tools — some of which may not pass muster at the farm gate.

“I think farmers are appropriately skeptical,” Pomeranz says. “They have a lot of people knocking at the door. But in the end, results are results.”

Foreign companies are likewise vying for a slice of the North American marketplace. Among companies at the California summit, for example, was Towing, a Japanese technology company that produces products for biochar pretreatment and microbial cultivation. The company’s goal is to revitalize depleted soil.

“It makes the soil ready for nutrients. We’re bringing this to the U.S.,” says Nagata Takuto, a representative of Towing. The brand already has a foothold in Japan, where 200 farms use the product.

Partner up

In some ways, the summit is a meeting ground where innovation seeks to partner with venture capital. It included a startup stage to formalize this process by letting small businesses pitch their ideas to larger ones.

At one session, Christophe Brod, CEO of BeeFutures, of Oslo, Norway, talked about his brand’s technology, hive light therapy: “We’re bringing technology to honeybees,” he said. “We need to learn a lot from bees if we want to increase pollination.”

Many others were at booths seeking funding and partners to scale their businesses.

“We’ve been able to chat with potential partners. We have the capacity, and we’re ready to expand,” says Terry Arden, CEO of CropVue Technologies, a Canadian company that affixes solar cameras onto insect traps to monitor egg hatch using artificial intelligence. “We’re here for scale. We’re looking for partners.”

CropVue Technologies has been in business for five years and has 6,000 units operating in 20 countries. It is collaborating with FMC. So far, Arden says its cameras have been well received on farms.

“This is for codling moths in an apple orchard,” Arden says, bringing up an image of the inside of a trap on his smartphone. An insect can clearly be seen, with a circle marked around it by an AI algorithm. He brings up a graph of historical data: “If we look at all of the counts from last year, we can see the pest arrived in May.”

Counts spiked and then declined as pesticide was applied.

Elsewhere, representatives from Guardian Agriculture were seeking investment to scale their ag-use electric vertical take-off (eVTOL) sprayer drone.

“It’s one of the best events to meet people with big pockets,” says Forrest Faszer, the startup’s California site lead. Faszer, who hails from a sixth-generation California farm family, was on hand showcasing the new 20-gallon payload drone. Compared to other products on the marketplace, he says it’s larger and is more robust.

Guardian received authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to fly its aircraft nationwide last year, and it has secured at least $20 million in funding. Guardian says its eVTOL is the first commercial-scale drone to begin operations in the United States. At least four machines are spraying crops in California's Salinas Valley.

“This is our first public unveiling,” he says. “I think we’re at the right place in the right market at the right time.”

About the Author(s)

Andy Castillo

Andy Castillo started his career in journalism about a decade ago as a television news cameraperson and producer before transitioning to a regional newspaper covering western Massachusetts, where he wrote about local farming.

Between military deployments with the Air Force and the news, he earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University, building on the English degree he earned from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He's a multifaceted journalist with a diverse skill set, having previously worked as an EMT and firefighter, a nightclub photographer, caricaturist, features editor at the Greenfield Recorder and a writer for GoNomad Travel. 

Castillo splits his time between the open road and western Massachusetts with his wife, Brianna, a travel nurse who specializes in pediatric oncology, and their rescue pup, Rio. When not attending farm shows, Castillo enjoys playing music, snowboarding, writing, cooking and restoring their 1920 craftsman bungalow.

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