The Agri-Tech Landscape – A YAGRO Perspective
The Agri-Tech landscape is in a state of constant flux and evolution. Our role within it presents an opportunity to research and provide insights on this fascinating and pivotal corner of the future of global agriculture.
Trends and innovations can roll like the seasons in this ever-evolving space. Analysing the shifting currents of this unique and dynamic industry, we uncover not only the latest news, trends and key players, but also the main trajectories and factors influencing Agri-Tech and its path ahead.
The Background to Change:
The Agri-Tech scene, including the UK, has witnessed its share of ups and downs, marked by successes and challenges that have shaped the journey so far. The term "Agri-Tech" itself has morphed into an umbrella phrase, encompassing genetics, vertical farming, data solutions and much more.
Yet, amidst this diversity, a sense of clarity and direction has sometimes been elusive.
In the early 2000s, a surge in digital farm record keeping heralded a new era - bringing paper notebooks into the digital realm. Enter products such as GeoFolia and Muddy-Boots. This momentum paved the way for compliance solutions and streamlined workflows. However, the financial crash of 2007-08 brought this initial phase of Agri-Tech innovation to a close.
The subsequent years of economic recovery saw a renewed energy flow back into the Agri-Tech scene, buoyed by returning investor confidence and technological advances, including remote imagery and precision farming. Innovations like GPS and satellite imagery enabled technology to begin delivering data-driven insights to farmers. Although the on-farm value of this technology continued to be debated, Agri-Tech had finally solidified its presence – as epitomised by monumental acquisitions such as Monsanto's purchase of the Climate Corporation for $1 billion in 2012.
However, this second phase of innovation was slowed somewhat after broad saturation of acquisitions by some of the big players, and challenging business models for individual start-ups.
Charting the Course:
The next wave of Agri-Tech has emerged with even greater diversity and ambition. Fuelled by the success of previous innovations and amplified by growing venture capital interest. Since 2015, three main fronts have emerged: Marketplaces, intelligent data and robotics...
Marketplaces sprouted globally, mirroring the web-based sales models of e-commerce giants of the era, and fuelled by new low-cost web service technologies. However, translating these models to an agricultural context proved intricate, not least due to the community-based nature of the industry.
In the U.S, ventures such as Farmers Business Network aimed to extend their service elements, and AgVendor underwent white label repackaging directed at established distribution companies. Boston-based Indigo, which bases a large part of its business model on grain and carbon marketing, has faced a 94% reduction in value in its latest funding round. In Europe, Graindex in the UK found a niche in the livestock sector but was unable to gain traction to land wider ambitions. Agriconomie in France, despite staying ‘pure’ to eCommerce, struggled to gain relevancy on-farm. Ultimately, we did not see a pure Marketplace player establish themselves widely.
Intelligent data gained prominence as connectivity improved and cloud services flourished. Proprietary players like John Deere explored data intelligence, using their existing hardware and sensors to develop more intelligent services – albeit to limited application on-farm thus far. Notably, YAGRO pivoted here from our initial marketplace orientation to data analytics, carving our own distinct path.
Other global players moved to compete with intelligent data, including Monsanto (now Bayer) through Climate Corp. Similarly, BASF through Xarvio. Notably, Bayer reflected the importance of advancements in cloud services to Agri-Tech by reinforcing their partnership with Microsoft in 2018, specifically drawing upon their Azure Cloud platform. However, these ventures have seen limited impact and application, with some being pulled back from the market altogether.
The UK displayed prowess in robotics, driven by automation tech and advancements in AI visualisation technology, often spilling over from the competition for self-driving cars. Companies like Small Robot Company (founded 2017) navigated the challenges of field robotics, and the University of Lincoln pitched in by forming Lincoln Agri Robotics. Although the promise of highly functioning autonomous robotics is high, the sheer complexities of real-world farming and operating in the diverse living environment that is a cropping field remains challenging.
As the post-pandemic economic landscape continues shifting, the most recent wave of technology faces its own reckoning. Economic uncertainties have once again shaken venture capital, impacting Agri-Tech investments. Some start-ups will falter, while only the strongest players will see support or strategic acquisitions, with YAGRO serving as a prime example of this.
Anticipate a period of recalibration as the economy stabilises. With the return of funds and the resurgence of visionary founders, the industry will inevitably regain momentum. YAGRO will continue to evolve our services, always striving to enhance on-farm value and providing insightful commentary on the broader landscape of Agri-Tech.
A Blueprint for the Future:
The dynamic realm of Agri-Tech and our explorations within it have revealed a space influenced by cycles of change and progress. Each cycle leaving an imprint on the industry, often providing springboards for the next. The landscape reflects the complexity and promising potential of the Agri-Tech sector.
As we stand on the cusp of the future, economic shifts and global uncertainties may momentarily alter the trajectory, but we remain steadfast in our commitment to evolving services and enriching on-farm value.
This article serves as a foundational blueprint for our continued exploration, a series of articles that delve deeper, analyse further and envisage the transformative potential of Agri-Tech. Stay tuned as we navigate the ag tech waters, steering towards a sustainable, tech-enabled future in agriculture.
Gareth Davies is Managing Director and Co-Founder of YAGRO, the UK leader in farm data intelligence. He is Chair of iSDA Africa, a pan-African pioneer of digital soil agronomy services. Until 2021 he was Trustee and Member of the Board for the Royal Agricultural Society of England, a charity awarded the Queen's Charter in 1840 to be the independent voice for science and best practice in agriculture. Previously at Syngenta in Switzerland, Gareth led the Global Food Security unit exploring novel business and investment models to serve smallholder farmers across the world. He has also worked in top-tier strategy consulting across a wide range of industries, particularly global agribusiness. His NGO experience includes working in West Africa with the microfinance platforms Kiva and Global Brigades.