The real life FarmVille: 6 startups digitizing the family farm
Humans started farming around 9,500 years ago and ever since we've been using technology to make the process easier and more productive. At some point we figured out how to use a plough, irrigate a field, make a John Deere tractor, use nitrogen-based fertilizers and genetically modify our crops. Each of these innovations made it possible for more food to be made with less effort.
Today's digital agtech innovations are likely to prove just as game-changing and world altering as those in the past and big money has started to flow to the industry. So far this year, over $320 million has poured into startups in the field — a threefold increase over last year. But, the vast majority of that money went to U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Canadian companies, although the industry is thriving around the world.
Here are some interesting things the industry is up to internationally.
Islamabad, Pakistan (with offices in Tennessee and California)
Cowlar is commonly referred to as the 'Fitbit for cows'. The company makes a smart collar that measures things like temperature, activity and cow behavior. The data is then run through a set of machine learning-based algorithms to give the farmer actionable information. There's even an app that will alert the farmer if the cow is in heat or pregnant, or if the herd starts to show signs of disease.
HiveUAV offers every farmer their own automated drone air force that can live and operate in the roughest of environments. The company's drones take off, collect information, land and transmit information autonomously. When they're not in operation, circling the skies monitoring crops, livestock movement or wild animals, they land themselves in a docking station that looks like small spaceship (or maybe a Webber grill) to recharge. While farmers in Nebraska may not be too worried about packs of wild animals harassing their herd or bushfires burning up their crops, farmers in other parts of the world absolutely are.
Think of GoldFarm kind of like India's Uber for farm equipment and services. The company operates a mobile-first platform that allows Indian farmers to access the products and services they need for agriculture. That's important in places like India, where most farms are small and it doesn't make financial sense for a farmer to own their own heavy equipment. When a farmer needs to plough a field or harvest a crop, GoldFarm will connect them with someone who has the correct equipment for the job at the press of a button. Farm equipment is expensive and those who do own it can make money renting out their services, while ensuring their investment doesn't sit idle for half the year.
Agricool is bringing the urban farm to an industrial scale. The company is placing shipping containers around Paris and using them as a space for miniature farms. These 'smart' containers can control every aspect of the growing process — from temperature and humidity levels to CO2 and the day/night cycle. Right now the company is focusing on growing strawberries in Paris, where they can beat the local retail price for the fruit. In the future, Agricool plans on adopting a franchise model, where they will be in charge of R&D, branding and other big-picture tasks, leaving the actual growing to third parties. The company pulled in $9.1 million in funding in July.
Gamaya is like an artificially intelligent Google Analytics for the modern farm. The company uses drones to capture images of crops, which are then analyzed by sophisticated AI algorithms. Farmers are notified when the computer spots patterns that predict problems (or, hopefully, a bumper crop). With reliable data, farmers are able to reduce risk, use less fertilizer and conserve water. Gamaya was spun out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and counts Peter Brabeck-Letathe, former chairman and CEO of the Nestlé Group, and chairman of Formula One among its investors.
GardenSpace is kind of like a nanny for the home garden. The company makes a visual sensor for plants that watches over a vegetable patch and gives information about the plants' health. The device detects if the garden is getting dry and will automatically water when necessary. The device is even smart enough to recognize when the neighbor's cat is about to use your tomato plant as a litter box and will shoo it away. The company graduated from the HAX hardware accelerator in Shenzhen, China and is expected to begin shipping products soon.
Images via companies featured.