[This article was written for the NSW DPI Dairy Automatic Milking Systems Newsletter, which you can view here]
The opportunity to bring emerging technologies to the agriculture industry is attracting attention from investors, corporates, and entrepreneurs around the world. In 2016, the “agtech” sector, loosely defined as technologies focused on increasing efficiency along the supply chain from paddock to plate, attracted$US 3.23 billion of investment from 670 unique investors across 580 deals. Though Australian agriculture has not seen the same levels of agtech activity or investment as countries like Israel and the U.S., momentum is increasing as support for innovation builds and startups achieve success.
In 2016, activity in the ecosystem took off. Startup pitch competition FoodBytes! by Rabobank hosted their first international event in Sydney, and several prizes and pitch competitions have since launched nationally to showcase entrepreneurs. Also last year, the CRDC brought together all 15 RDCs- for the first time ever — to collaborate around digital disruption in agriculture on the Precision to Decision Project. There have been some big wins so far in 2017 as well: SproutX launched Australia’s first accelerator and dedicated venture capital fund ($10M); Melbourne-based startup Observant was acquired by Jain Irrigation; and The Yield raised $US 6.5 million from Bosch, KPMG, and AgFunder.
Despite the momentum, there’s still a long way to go in connecting the entrepreneurial ecosystem with the farming community to deliver impactful technologies and services for the sectors. Startups need to bring their A game to be competitive internationally; Corporates along the supply chain need to develop effective innovation strategies that will help their businesses meet the demands of 21st century consumers; and research institutions need to develop partnerships with organizations that can help them commercialize their technologies. And farmers, too, have a role to play as early adopters, startup advisors (or investors), and engaged stakeholders to help innovators develop solutions that solve real problems…and have a good chance of finding paying customers in return.