Reflections from evokeAG 2024

Last week, the Tenacious team was in Perth for the 4th annual evokeAG. With over 2,000 global attendees, four speaking gigs for our team, dozens of side events (including a farm tour and an underwater dinner), and a guided tour through the botanical gardens with our portfolio companies and investors, it was a BIG week. 

We came away with reflections on the maturing Australian agtech ecosystem and the evolving role of events like evokeAG, but a few things, in particular, stood out from the conference content and conversations we had. 

Climate adaptation will be complex 

The day before the event, about 100 delegates headed a few hours outside of Perth into the Western Australian wheat belt to see Vinnie, a SwarmFarm SwarmBot managing weeds at Bungulla Farm. Unfortunately, temperatures reached 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit), and anything over 45 degrees constitutes a total fire ban, meaning Vinnie - like all farm equipment -  could not be taken into the field. 

This was the first of many tangible examples of the realities and challenges of climate adaptation in agriculture that we saw, heard, and felt throughout the week. Avocados literally boiling in their peels. Heat waves altering marine ecosystems and driving entire stocks of fish to new locations. Grape growers hunting for markets beyond wine that will accept their too-high-sugar-content harvest.  These challenges are not theoretical; primary producers told us about how they are navigating them today. 

Of course, with change will also come opportunities. Agtech startups are developing new tools to manage risk, reduce costs, and open new markets. And innovative producers are finding opportunities for new revenue streams and ways of working. 

But I fear that there are some extremely tough questions we don’t yet have answers to. Will proactively investing in adaptation and resilience vs. decarbonization continue to feel like a tradeoff? Will corporates and governments be willing to incur the worse-before-better implications of transition? Will industry bodies and researchers be agile enough to stay ahead of on-farm challenges? 

We need systems approaches

Guy Coleman, evokeAG Future Young Leader and recent podcast guest, is doing his PhD on how weeds will develop resistance to detection by cameras and artificial intelligence. Just as weeds have already evolved to be herbicide tolerant, so too can they adapt to mowing and flooding. It’s not a far leap to think they will find ways to avoid next generation technologies. 

As is true across agtech, there are no silver bullet solutions. In weeds, the future of management might be a toolkit of bioherbicides and non-chemical interventions applied by autonomous vehicles at various unconventional points in a season. 

This is just one of the many examples where we need systems-thinking to unlock viable and sustainable solutions for agri-food value chains, both from entrepreneurs and researchers, as well as the investors funding commercialization. 

This is of course why we started Tenacious, and why we’re raising Fund II, but we cannot do it alone. 

Will the capital stack evolve to provide a range of options suitable to the natural systems and value chain complexity inherent in agtech? How will business models (and margins) of ag input companies evolve as new management toolkits come to market?

Change is brewing for gender diversity 

Over 100 women (and a few male champions) gathered for the inaugural XFactor breakfast to kick off evokeAG day 1 with conversations and candor in a week that’s otherwise full of small talk. I was fortunate enough to MC the event, and in preparing, I found two stats that are worth paying attention to as we think about the future of the agtech industry.

  • Last year in Australia, 60% of agriculture and environmental studies graduates were women, and it is one of only two industries where female graduates earn more than their male counterparts (source). 
  • By 2050 in Australia, $3.5 trillion in assets will likely change hands, and much of this - 60-70% by some estimates - will go to women. 

Agtech operates at the intersection of several male-dominated industries, and these are massive opportunities to shift toward a more inclusive and diverse ecosystem. As women gain more financial resources, they will have an increased capacity to fund, support, and develop agtech solutions. They will also be more empowered decision-makers and leaders in the agtech industry.

This shift in wealth and resources means leveraging the full spectrum of talent in our industry, which ultimately benefits everyone.

See you in Brisbane!

Massive congratulations to the evokeAG and AgriFutures teams for another successful event. We’ll see you in Brisbane in 2025! 

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