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Shortages In Agriculture Present Opportunities For AgTech Startups

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 6/4/2015

Farmers grow crops worth more than $130 billion each year. And as certain inputs shrink, more startups are finding room to grow.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. These startups have taken note of the difficulties facing farmers today, and they are growing healthy, in-demand startups in response.

Robot Strawberry Picking

Labor Shortage

As Mexico's job market has improved and the U.S. has tightened its borders, the agriculture industry is finding it more difficult to hire inexpensive immigrant workers to pick fruits and vegetables. Now Juan Bravo of Spain has a solution for farmers: the Agrobot. With sophisticated computing, image sensing and dexterous robotic arms, the Agrobot--which comes with a $100,000 price tag--can do what not long ago only humans could do: pick ripe strawberries while leaving the unripe ones on the vine for later.

Another Spanish startup has engineered a new way to transplant lettuce seedlings to the fields. Plant Tape promises greater density of plants and a reduced reliance on labor thanks to their transplanting machines, which lay out strips of tape containing germinated seeds over the farmer's field. In 2014, Plant Tape was acquired by California-based Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods Inc., one of the largest vegetable growers in the industry.

Water Shortage

As anyone in California will tell you, water isn't as available as it used to be. In the U.S., the agriculture industry is responsible for 80 percent of our collective water usage, which means any meaningful change should begin on our farms. Enter the Smart Farm, developed by Estonia-based Click & Grow. The Smart Farm is a vertically designed indoor farming system that does not rely on expensive hydroponic technology, but rather incorporates his company's proprietary Smart Soil. Mattias Lepp, founder of Click & Grow, believes that the Smart Farm will bring farming closer to consumers and professionals in urban areas thanks to its compact design, relatively affordable price ($1,500) and reliance on 95% less water.

Data Shortage

Today farm equipment is fitted with all kinds of sensors for data collection. But Jesse Vollmar, a young fifth-generation farmer, learned from fellow farmers that the software they were using was not doing the job. So Vollmar founded FarmLogs in Ann Arbor, Mich. His company develops software that collects, analyzes and displays farming data in a way that is more insightful and actionable for farmers.

When Vollmar started his company back in 2012, he says that attracting investors from venture capitalists was very challenging. Nobody was interested in agricultural technology, or "AgTech."

But as more companies and investors see the agriculture industry as ripe for disruption, the money is coming easier. According to CrunchBase, FarmLogs has raised $15 million to date. Now that's a lot of strawberries.

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