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Agtech - So What?
34 minutes | Jan 12, 2022
The Tricky Business of Scaling Soil Tech - Adam Litle, CEO, Sound Agriculture
The science and technology of soil is rapidly evolving, but translating it into a scalable business that can offer viable products to farmers has long been a tricky proposition. But it’s one that Adam Litle, the CEO of Sound Agriculture, has devoted much of his career to answering.Adam was part of the executive team at Granular, the farm management software company acquired by Dupont (now Corteva) for $300M. Now, at Sound Ag, he’s leading a company that’s raised more than $95M to develop a product which activates microbes in soil to increase the uptake of nitrogen and phosphorus, thereby enabling farmers to use less fertilizer.In this episode Adam shares his insights on:Striking a balance between scientific rigor, technological innovation, and investor returnsWhy the SaaS business model is challenging in agricultureHow to build trust in a startup team of scientists and industry people, while bringing in commercial experience.Why soil innovations are receiving an increase in attention as farmers continue to grapple with the rising costs of fertilizer.For more information, visit our website.
35 minutes | Dec 22, 2021
FROM THE VAULT: Mark Ferguson on science, sheep, and the tech-enabled future of genetics
Originally released: 20 February, 2020We’ll be back with new episodes in January 2022, but for the holidays we thought we’d bring back a favorite episode from the vault!Mark Ferguson or “Ferg,” is a sheep geneticist who’s paying attention to how both consumer demands and emerging technologies are impacting growers. He’s the co-founder and Director of neXtgen Agri, an online livestock consultancy, and Genesmith, a startup applying facial recognition and machine learning to the global livestock industry.Drawing on his experience with dozens of clients around Australia and New Zealand, Ferg shares his insights on:How to build relationships in a digital world.What the future of extension and consulting in livestock holds.The role of cutting edge technologies in the sheep industry (facial recognition for sheep!)His vision for a future where consumer expectations are met and growers are profitable.For more episodes, visit our website. Catch you in 2022!
44 minutes | Dec 15, 2021
What's the role of government in agtech ecosystems? Salvatore Lavallo, Abu Dhabi Investment Office
It’s fair to say most entrepreneurs (and farmers!) aren’t big fans of government rules and regulations for fear of being slowed down by red tape and bureaucracy. However, the political environment in which a startup develops can have a big impact on its ability to find investment and support, especially in agtech, where ecosystems are still very new for most countries.The United Arab Emirates is investing heavily in agtech, seeking to make Abu Dhabi the global center for innovation in agriculture. Their focus is on vertical farming, aquaculture, and hydroponics. And they’re working to be strategic in attracting investment and solving for food security, while also developing a knowledge economy.Salvatore Lavallo is the Head of Foreign Direct Investment at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. He’s had a unique, and perhaps unlikely journey, to this position. Growing up in Indiana, his interest in economic development led him to become, at the age of 27, one of the youngest people to travel to every country in the world. Along the way, he became a farm owner in Tanzania, and later, a consultant with McKinsey in Africa and the Middle East.In this episode, Salvatore discusses:Challenging conventional economic indicators to understand what actually benefits local communitiesAbu Dhabi’s bold plan to create Food Tech Valley, a hub for agtech innovation in desert environments.The tension between too much government regulation and too littleFor more information and resources from this episode, visit our website
47 minutes | Dec 8, 2021
Bonus Ep: Later-Stage Agtech Startup Wrap, feat. Anastasia Volkova, Regrow
Where are all the women founders in agtech, especially at later-stage startups? What does an acquisition really feel like, and when does it make sense? In this Bonus episode, we answer both these questions, as well as build on the key insights from our latest series: “Later-Stage Agtech Startup Lessons”.This episode features:Anastasia Volkova - co-founder and CEO of Regrow*, an independent measurement reporting and verification platform. Regrow, (formerly Flurosat), recently acquired US agtech company, Dagan, and raised $17 million in Series A funding.Matthew Pryor - co-founder of Tenacious Ventures, and partner at the Agthentic Group. He previously co-founded Observant, a precision ag water management company, which was acquired by Jain Irrigation. Our guests also examine some of the key lessons from the entrepreneurs featured in this series: Michael Gilbert of Semios, Paul Lightfoot of BrightFarms and Charles Baron of Farmers Business Network. For more information visit our website.*Disclaimer: Tenacious Ventures is an investor in Regrow.
48 minutes | Dec 1, 2021
Later-Stage Agtech Startup Lessons #3 - Charles Baron, Farmers Business Network
Farmers Business Network is one of the most well-funded startups in agtech. Just recently, they announced a $300M Series G round, bringing their total funds raised to $870M and their valuation to nearly $4 billion. So, where did it all begin?In this episode, FBN co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer, Charles Baron, explains how his Silicon Valley upbringing unexpectedly collided with rural Nebraska, resulting in an idea for a new kind of agribusiness- one that would connect farmers and increase their bargaining power for chemicals and seeds.In the eight years since the startup began, FBN has frequently encountered opposition from incumbents due to its push for competition and transparency for input pricing. In this episode, the last in our three-part series, Charles talks about several key factors in the company’s success, including:Questioning Silicon Valley’s ‘founder obsession’ to instead create a ‘farmer-centric’ ideologyThe importance of telling your company’s story through your own channels (rather than relying on others).How FBN makes decisions about which strategies to pursue, including their Gradable platform and recently announced partnership with ADMThis is the third episode in our “Later-Stage Agtech Startup Lessons” series. Listen to episode 1) Michael Gilbert of Semios and episode 2) Paul Lightfoot of BrightFarms. For more resources visit our website.
40 minutes | Nov 17, 2021
Later-Stage Agtech Startup Lessons #2 - Paul Lightfoot, BrightFarms
“When you say, ‘can I have your money?’ Then, people speak the truth.”Paul Lightfoot is a serial entrepreneur who has learned several lessons the hard way, from raising money to communicating purpose to hiring (and firing). After spending much of his career as a software CEO, Paul wanted to follow his “calling” to enter the world of sustainability and foodtech.But this meant moving from a familiar career trajectory to an industry that, 10 years ago when Paul was entering it, barely even existed. In 2011, Paul founded BrightFarms, which uses hydroponic greenhouses to produce locally sourced packaged salads in the US. Along the way, he has made several critical decisions for his startup’s success. This includes an incredibly rare and difficult decision for any founder to make- Paul voluntarily stepped back from the role of CEO and hired someone he believed could do a better job.Now, BrightFarms has 300 employees, five greenhouses, and in 2021, it was acquired by Cox Enterprises. In this episode, Paul talks about:How to distinguish between what your ego is telling you and what’s best for your company.How he raised capital in the early days, as well as more recent strategic partnerships to support the growth of BrightFarms.Why establishing core values and purpose is not simply human resources ‘fluff’, but rather integral to success throughout every phase of a startup.For more information on this episode, visit our website. This is the second episode in our “Later-Stage Agtech Startup Lessons” series. Listen to the first episode with Michael Gilbert of Semios.
36 minutes | Nov 3, 2021
Later-Stage Agtech Startup Lessons #1 - Michael Gilbert, Semios
In this 3-part series, we’ll share the lessons from agtech startup founders who have grown their agtech companies from idea to at least 100 employees. We’ll be examining what’s worked (and hasn’t), differences between agtech and other industries, and what the founders have learned along the way about the industry and themselves.This episode, the first in the series, features Michael Gilbert, CEO and founder of Semios, a crop management platform initially focused on tree fruit, nuts and vines, based in Canada. Michael has a PhD in chemistry and started his career in pharmaceuticals and biotech, before realizing his knowledge could be applied to agricultural inputs. This initial idea has led him on a journey from biologicals, to creating a company with more than 300 employees and over $225 million in external capital raised to date.Michael discusses:The importance of iterating your idea, technology, and business based on customer inputHiring tips and challenges as you expand from needing generalists to specialistsHow to create a culture that rewards failure (and why this is hard in an agricultural context)For more information and links to the resources mentioned in this podcast, visit our website.
31 minutes | Oct 28, 2021
Bonus: Investing in tech to enable regen ag
Venture investment into technology companies that have the potential to scale regenerative agriculture is accelerating. However, it is a relatively new domain for venture capital, and it comes with its own unique set of challenges.So what role can VCs play in the regen ag landscape? And what technologies and trends are VCs looking at to guide their investments?This bonus episode features a discussion from a live panel conversation at the Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum (RFSIF), in California, with:Renee Vassilos - Director of Agriculture Innovation at The Nature Conservancy.Mark Lewis - Managing Partner at Trailhead Capital, and owner at Lewis Family Farm.Sarah Nolet - co-founder of Tenacious Ventures and the Agthentic Group.Paul Lightfoot (moderator), President of BrightFarms and author, Negative Foods NewsletterThank you to RFSI for the recording- this episode is a lightly edited version of the live event. For more information and resources from this episode visit our website. You might also like to catch up on our regen ag series.
39 minutes | Oct 20, 2021
Why You Should Give a F*ck About Farming - Gabrielle Chan
Does the average citizen actually need to care about how their food is produced? This is the central question Australian author and journalist, Gabrielle Chan, set out to answer. Her latest book, “Why you should give a f*ck about farming” details her firm conclusion that, yes, if you eat food, you should in fact care about agriculture. While the old days of agriculture as the top contributor to GDP are over for most Western countries, Gabrielle argues the future of food and farming is becoming increasingly important for a raft of other reasons such as climate change and food security.In this episode, she talks about:Her own introduction to farming, including what shocked her when she first moved from the city to marry a farmer.The emergence of ‘food tribes’, where people view what they eat as part of their identity.How politics is failing agriculture by not having a “backyard plan,” a strategy to value natural capital and make considered decisions about land use.The role of agtech in bringing outsiders into agriculture, reinvigorating rural communities, and re-establishing connections between consumers and farmers.For more information and resources, visit our website
41 minutes | Oct 6, 2021
Farmers and Startups: Lessons and Tips for Collaborating
The divide between farmers and startups can seem like a chasm. Tech culture and agriculture have evolved from completely different backgrounds, and even seem to have their own languages. So how can agtech bring together two very different groups?In this episode, you’ll hear practical tips from farmers and agtech experts on how to build mutually beneficial relationships. For startups, this includes approaching farmers as partners, rather than ‘customers,’ and understanding ‘grower economics’. And for farmers, it’s about finding opportunities to access and help shape new products as the startup iterates. This might look like an equity partnership, an advisory relationship, or even becoming a co-founder.On the panel:Walt Duflock - Vice President of Innovation, Western GrowersEmma Weston - CEO & Co-Founder, AgriDigital Pete Nelson - President & Executive Director, AgLaunchThis episode is an edited version of an AusAgritech Meetup, sponsored by Foodbytes! by Rabobank. For more information and resources, visit our website.
40 minutes | Sep 29, 2021
Bonus: The Economics of Valuing Natural Capital - Ken Henry, former Treasury Secretary of Australia
Dr. Ken Henry became well-known in Australia for his bold economic reforms as the Treasury Secretary throughout the 2000s. His approach to conservation and agriculture is equally as bold, advocating for the natural environment to be valued, and even predicting “an explosion” in financial instruments to measure soil carbon, vegetation, biodiversity and other aspects of nature.As an economist, former Chair of the National Australia Bank, and current board director of Accounting for Nature, he brings a unique perspective to agtech and agriculture.In this bonus episode, Ken talks with Agthentic co-founder, Matthew Pryor, about:How his father’s career as a timber worker sparked an interest in measuring natural capitalWhy economic incentives are needed to further encourage landowners to protect the environmental condition of farms (and what these incentives should look like).How Australia (or any Western nation) can market itself as having quality, “climate adaptive” produce to capitalize on the growing middle classes in China and India.Why we can expect farm bank managers to be increasingly interested in how a farm’s environmental condition is managed.For more information, you can visit our website.
67 minutes | Sep 22, 2021
100th Episode Special: our most popular guests on soil carbon, regen ag, and the future of agtech
For our 100th episode (hooray!), we’ve brought back some of our most popular guests to check in on what’s changed in their businesses and in agtech since we spoke, and the new technologies and opportunities we can all be looking out for.These guests were popular for a reason:Mark Wootton - dubbed the ‘carbon neutral farmer,’ Mark is a pioneer in measuring natural capital… yet, he’s also highly skeptical of the regenerative agriculture movement.Stu Austin - manager of Wilmot Cattle Co, which recently secured a landmark deal to sell $500,000 worth of soil carbon credits to Microsoft.Sarah Mock - sometimes controversial, but always well-researched in her views, Sarah is an agricultural journalist and author, who just released a book examining what makes a ‘good farm’Derek Norman - VP of venture investment at Leaps by Bayer, Derek shares the latest on emerging technologies in agtech, including in fertilizer and soil carbon.This podcast also features insights on the future of agtech from YOU, our listeners! Thank you to all who sent in voice messages. For more information, visit our website.
38 minutes | Sep 8, 2021
Getting Off the Commodities Treadmill - Loran Steinlage
Loran Steinlage has been labeled a ‘regenerative’ farmer and branded a conservationist, yet as a farmer in Iowa, in many ways he’s far from the stereotypical image of either. He lives in the heart of the Iowa corn belt, but says he now doesn’t care whether he grows corn or not.In this episode, Loran shares how his drive for innovation has come from a series of difficult and life-changing events in his personal life. This, coupled with his love of tinkering with machines has helped him unlock new ways of farming, such as cover cropping, interseeding and relay cropping, that have not only won him awards and improved profitability, but also caught the attention of machinery manufacturers and helped him spend more time with his family.While other farmers in the area are focused on growing row crops at scale, Loran is focused on increased crop diversity, reducing the costs of production, and ultimately getting off the commodities treadmill.In this podcast, Loran talks about:How he’s able to grow a crop 365 days a year, even under snow.How modifying equipment has allowed him to reduce inputs and run a low cost production system.Why he hopes sharing his innovations will help other farmers consider alternative farming practices and different markets.For more information, visit our website.Also, we want to hear from YOU! We're planning our 100th episode and are looking for stories about how you have used any of the agtech or food innovation ideas discussed on this podcast in your business or workplace. Did it work? Or did it fail?You can record a short voice message by following the link on our website here, and you might just end up on the show!
41 minutes | Aug 25, 2021
Designing Crops to Change the Plant-Based Food System - Matt Crisp, Benson Hill
Benson Hill is designing crops and ingredients for some of the world’s most popular plant-based food brands. But the company has no intention of becoming a brand itself. Instead, it’s focused on revolutionizing the entire food system, from how plants are grown, to what they taste like, to the range of crop varieties on offer.Founder and CEO, Matt Crisp, started Benson Hill nearly a decade ago as a plant biology company, using analytics and machine learning to increase yields. Now it has grown to become a technology platform as well as a vertically integrated food and ingredients business, designing high protein soybeans and yellow peas to fuel the growing plant-based protein industry.In this episode, Matt shares:His journey from venture capital in the life sciences industry, to becoming an agtech startup founder.How the business model of Benson Hill has evolved and why it’s betting on the growth of the plant-based protein industry.How to involve farmers in testing crops and products on a commercial scale so growers benefit, as much as the company.Benson Hill’s recent SPAC deal and upcoming public listing on the New York Stock Exchange.For more information and resources, visit our website.Also, we want to hear from YOU! We’re planning our 100th episode and are looking for your stories about how you have used any of the agtech or food innovation ideas discussed on this podcast in your business or workplace. Did it work? Or did it fail?You can record a short voice message by following the link on our website here, and you might just end up on the show!
45 minutes | Aug 18, 2021
Bonus Episode: Did Silicon Valley Kill Agtech?
The Silicon Valley model for innovation has worked famously for many software based companies, such as Facebook and PayPal. However, when it comes to agtech, the Silicon Valley template for startup success hasn’t translated very well. This template, of either “user is the customer” or “user is the product” is rather limited in agriculture, where the farming population is small (restricting scale) and the stakes are high.This episode features Rob Trice, the founding partner of Better Food Ventures and The Mixing Bowl, along with Sarah Nolet and Matthew Pryor, who both lead the Agthentic Group and Tenacious Ventures. All three guests have a solid tech and business history in Silicon Valley and discuss why the business models typically used by venture-backed software companies, can’t just be copy-pasted to agriculture.They also dig into:The early days of Silicon Valley, the dot-com boom and bust and where Agtech 1.0 went wrong.How understanding the whole supply chain and embedded incentives , will be critical to success.How financing models from venture capital to SPACs can better fit with the agtech revolution (or evolution), as well as the positive signs for the future growth of the industry.For more information visit our website. You might also like our recent article: “How Silicon Valley Set Agtech Back a Decade”
43 minutes | Aug 11, 2021
Carbon neutrality and tackling misinformation in red meat - Jason Strong, Meat and Livestock Australia
Red meat is increasingly seen as the “bad guy” when it comes to climate change. Undoubtedly, animal agriculture has an impact on the environment, with 10 percent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from livestock. But Australia's leading red meat marketing and R&D organization, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) says the negative environmental impacts from red meat are often overblown.While lamb and beef are still very popular in Australia, and cattle farmers are currently enjoying record prices, red meat consumption is becoming more contentious, and conversations about sustainable food and agriculture are increasingly susceptible to emotional debates and even misinformation.In this episode, MLA’s Managing Director, Jason Strong speaks about:The MLA’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030, and how the red meat industry plans to use technology and improvements in animal husbandry to achieve itThe battle between the Australian meat industry and the plant-based protein industry over the use of the word “meat” on labelsJason’s experience with groups that he claims are unfairly “denigrating” red meat as they push their own products and agendasWhy the MLA isn’t supportive of regulations to meet environmental targetsFor more information and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, visit our website
39 minutes | Jul 28, 2021
Is the Future of Farming Hands-Free?
For some, the concept of hands-free farming is terrifying; for others, the prospect is game-changing and exciting. But, is fully autonomous farming really possible?In this episode we chat with Kit Franklin, senior lecturer in agricultural engineering at Harper Adams University in the UK, who in 2016 set out to prove an entire crop cycle could be done autonomously. The project was called Hands Free Hectare, which later expanded into Hands Free Farm after garnering worldwide attention and for producing what is believed to be the first crop to be planted, cultivated, and harvested - completely autonomously.While Kit started this farming experiment simply to prove robotic farming was possible, how transferable is his autonomous trial crop to the real world? And is it how we want to be farming our food in the future?In this episode, Kit discusses:The role autonomy can play in making small-scale farming viable and lowering chemical use.How media exposure of even a small scale project can change perceptions of agriculture and attract unlikely entrants to the industry.The key enablers required for autonomy to take off, and the business models that may bring it to scale.For more resources from this episode, visit our website.
41 minutes | Jul 14, 2021
Biologicals and chemistry: finding ways to commercialize the science
Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be. In agtech, this is a reminder that no matter how cutting edge the science or technology, when it comes to commercialization, functionality and novelty are simply not enough. This is especially true in the complex area of chemistry and the emerging industry of biologicals.This episode features two scientists who, instead of viewing the publication of their research as an end point, have made it the beginning of a venture-backed startup journey. Dr. Jacqueline Heard, CEO of Enko Chem, a US agtech startup that has raised over $50M to develop novel crop protection solutions, and Dr. Nancy Schellhorn, CEO of RapidAIM, a Tenacious Ventures portfolio company that spun out of Australia’s CSIRO, join us to discuss:The journey from researcher to founder within the deeply technical landscape of ag inputsThe challenges of transitioning from scientist to venture-backed startup founderTwo business models that, as mentioned in Part 1 of this series, are helping overcome some of the challenges in bringing new inputs to marketFor more resources, please visit our website.
28 minutes | Jul 7, 2021
BONUS EP: Capitalism for Good, feat. David Lee from AppHarvest and Impossible Foods
Can capitalism be a force for good? David Lee left the traditional corporate world to work for some of the most bullish startup companies in agrifood tech, including Impossible Foods and AppHarvest, where he was appointed the company’s President earlier this year. David did this out of a belief that the levers of capitalism and consumerism are the fastest ways to transform the food system. He says the key to address the world’s urgent food sustainability problems is by creating consumer movements.In this bonus episode, David speaks to Sarah as part of fireside chat at the recent Future Food Asia 2021 conference. They discuss:The role of impact investing in agrifood tech, including using venture capital and SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies), and why David believes ‘funding failures’ is okay.Why changing consumer behaviors around food is so difficult.The growing opportunities for agrifood tech, particularly in Asia.Thanks to ID Capital, the organizer of Future Food Asia, for hosting the discussion and providing us the audio. For further resources, visit our website.
43 minutes | Jun 30, 2021
Biologicals: snake oil or science, and how do we know?
Farmers are under pressure to shift toward lower chemical intensity production. Biologicals are touted as one possible solution, promising natural, chemical-free alternatives to inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. But biologicals also have a reputation for being ‘snake oil,’ with companies making claims that seem too good to be true, or that don’t stack up outside the lab.So what’s the science behind biologicals, and how do we know they work? And when they do work, how do we get them in the hands of more farmers?This episode features Jarrett Chambers, founder and President of ATP Nutrition, a Canadian plant nutrition company, and Shane Thomas, agronomist and author of Upstream Ag Insights, to discuss:What biologicals are, and how to think about the different categoriesWhat’s driving interest in biologicals from farmers, agribusinesses, and investors.What characteristics, business models, and incentives can help ensure biologicals fit into established farming systems.How digital tools can be used to bring credibility to the biologicals marketFor more resources from the episode, visit our website.
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