In 2017, ag-tech investments reached $10 billion 29% higher than the previous year.
Ag-tech startups are rising up to tackle big sustainability challenges.
Research from Agfunder found that so-called “novel farming systems,” including indoor farming operations and alternative feed startups, raised $652 million in 2017. This represents an increase of 233% over 2016.
Some of the largest investments ($203 million in 2017) are going to companies such as Indigo Agriculture, which is developing non-GMO microbial seed coatings that could reduce use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Here are some startup categories that offer particular promise for the cause of agricultural sustainability:
1. Indoor farming systems
These ventures use LED lights and closed-loop aeroponic systems that mist the roots of plants with nutrients, water and oxygen, making them far less resource-intensive than traditional agriculture.
2. Alternative feed supplies
Animal feeds that are not based on soy, corn or forage fish (such as herring) are a key solution for sustainably meeting the world’s growing protein demands. Feed production today generates 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock production and contributes to water scarcity, among other resource challenges.
The company’s long-term aim is to enable farmers to forgo chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.
4. Plant breeding
Aims to significantly reduce the land, water and other inputs required for producing food and feed.
5. Plant-based alternative meats
6. Dairy product alternatives
Research published in Science in 2018 found that avoiding dairy as well as meat was the single most effective step to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
7. Fair treatment of farmers
Fair for Life Certification looks to maintain fair trade, responsible supply chains and equitable treatment farmers.
8. Food waste
The World Resource Institute estimates that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.