We are revisiting three different former guests from 2018 to ask the question “Where are they now?”. This is something you all have requested over the years, but I’ve never done until now. It was a lot of fun and really insightful to catch up with the three former podcast guests that you’re about to hear from. They are: Michael Gilbert of Semios, Tony Chen from Manolin, and Chris Rawley of Harvest Returns.
So you’re getting sort of three episodes in one today. I think there are a ton of great nuggets in each of these segments, so I highly encourage you to stick around to listen to each of them.
"From Farms to Incubators" https://www.farmstoincubators.com/
This week we are exploring the concept of engineering a plant to provide signals of stress like pest pressure or disease pressure or nutrient deficiency. InnerPlant is developing traits that serve as biosensors for when each of these unique types of stressors occur. This can be monitored via satellite for early detection and hopefully swift and precise action by the farmer. InnerPlant founder and CEO Shely Aronov is joining us on today’s show.
And when I say us, I not only mean you I, dear listener, but also my co-host for today’s episode Amy Wu. Amy is the author of the book “From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food is Grown”. Amy and I teamed up earlier this year to produce some episodes together featuring women in agtech. This is the third of those episodes following Joanne Zhang in episode 263, and Ponsi Trivisvavet in episode 273. I highly encourage you to purchase a copy of Amy’s book, as it not only includes Joanne and Ponsi, but also several other former guests of this podcast: like Pam Marrone, Fatma Kaplan, Sarah Nolet, Mariana Vasconcelos, Christine Su, and others.
So, joining Amy and I is Shely Aronov. Shely grew up in Israel and came to the United States to get her MBA at Stanford, where she chose entrepreneurship as her focus. After some entrepreneurial ventures including a hummus company, she was inspired by some work her father in law was doing in biosensors which eventually led to founding InnerPlant in 2018.
I usually don’t feature companies on this show that are so early that they don’t yet have a commercial offering. But when Amy brought up the idea, the concept of communicating with plants was just too enticing for me to pass up. You’re going to hear a lot about how this works, why it could lead to significant improvements in management of these stressors, what it’s like to be a female agtech founder not from an ag background, and why farmers are paying to be part of this several months before there’s even a product available.
Tenacious Ventures: https://tenacious.ventures/
SP Ventures: https://www.spventures.com.br/
Merck Animal Health Ventures: https://www.merck-animal-health.com/animal-health-ventures/
Last month I gathered four agtech venture capitalists who all happen to be very popular previous guests of this show to talk about what they’re seeing in agtech investment, and to speculate about where things might go from here. What resulted was a great conversation talking about how areas of technology are making their way into agriculture, and how that’s made them feel suddenly like part of the “popular kids” of the venture community.
The four voices you’re going to hear from today are Mark Kahn from Omnivore in India, Sarah Nolet from Tenacious Ventures in Australia, Janette Barnard with Merck Animal Health Ventures here in the U.S., and Francisco Jardim of SP Ventures in Brazil. I’ll link to each of their websites and the previous episodes where you can hear them in the show notes.
Francisco Jardim LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/franciscojardim/
Sarah Nolet LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/svnolet/
Janette Barnard LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janettebarnard/
Mark Kahn LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-kahn-20490a/
Sarah Nolet Twitter: https://twitter.com/svnoles
Janette Barnard Twitter: https://twitter.com/JanetteJoyB
Mark Kahn Twitter: https://twitter.com/agri_technology
Hello Tractor: https://hellotractor.com/
Jehiel Oliver on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jehiel/
Software is Feeding the World Email Newsletter: https://rpethe.substack.com/
Today’s episode is about how Hello Tractor is bringing tractors to farmers in developing countries. This is a tremendous story of figuring out the logistics of how to maximize the use of farm machinery where it’s needed most, and deploying the technology and processes to make this happen at scale. At a real basic level, Hello Tractor is an agricultural technology company that connects smallholder farmers across the emerging markets with farm equipment owners that have excess capacity through technology.
Jehiel started the company six years ago in Nigeria, and has since moved to Kenya. Hello Tractor is now operating in 13 countries in Africa as well as a few countries in Asia as well as Guatemala and Jamaica.
Today’s episode is worth listening to all the way through, whether or not you think the problems of the developing work apply to you. It’s not only a great story, but there are some fascinating insights here about the power of fleet management technology, and how innovations in this industry can be applied to farms of all sizes.
Jehiel grew up in Cleveland and started his career in investment banking. He started to become really interested in ways to use finance to work with more marginalized communities, and started volunteering his time and expertise in deal structuring to microfinance organizations. After the financial crisis he committed full time to this work, first in Afghanistan. He realized that the global poor work in agriculture, and mechanization is a key missing piece to helping to alleviate poverty. So he’s applying his finance background to pull commercial levers to address this really entrenched problem.
The Nature Conservancy: https://www.nature.org/en-us/
"Building Soil Health Through Innovation" https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/provide-food-and-water-sustainably/food-and-water-stories/building-soil-health-innovation/
Renée Vassilos LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rvassilos/
Today’s guest is Renée Vassilos. Renée manages The Nature Conservancy’s investments in innovative companies that will help scale regenerative agriculture production practices. Prior to joining TNC, she spent nearly a decade at John Deere, followed by leading her consulting firm, Banyan Innovation Group, advising growth-stage agriculture technology startups and investors. That’s where she was when we heard from her in episode 157 in 2019.
If you’ve never heard of The Nature Conservancy before, they are a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive. They have a strong reputation for working with private and public partners, including farmers and agribusinesses, to find practical and sustainable solutions to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.
Since joining TNC a couple of years ago, Renée has led investments in seven different early stage agricultural companies. Four of which, you’ve actually heard about if you’ve been listening to this show for very long. Those four are: Grower’s Edge (ep 156 & 238), SwarmFarm Robotics (ep 271), Sentera (ep 255 & 264), and Vence (ep 246).
Renee and I also talk about how they’re measuring and evaluating the impact of their investments related to their ability to get closer to their soil health goals, and the chicken or the egg problem of whether the tools can change a farmers practices or if a mindset has to change first with the farmer to seek out the right tools for those practices. That’s toward the end and Renee and I disagree slightly on which has to come first.
**Join the FoA Community: www.patreon.com/agriculture
Bionutrient Food Association: https://bionutrient.org/
Bionutrient Institute: https://www.bionutrientinstitute.org/
Bionutrient meter: https://bionutrient.org/bionutrientmeter
Over the past few years, the term “nutrient density” has been popping up more and more. There are a lot of claims being made about farming practices like regenerative agriculture producing more nutritious food or more nutrient dense food. But is this true? I mean, if you increase the amount of one nutrient are you really making it more nutrient dense or are you maybe just doing so at the expense of other nutrients? And if there are more of any given nutrient in a product, does that make it necessarily healthier?
The truth is we don’t really know. There is no agreed upon standard for nutrient density. And many people and companies are not letting that stop them latching onto the term and running with it for their own marketing purposes. You’ve heard evidence of that right here on previous episodes of this show. Also, without collecting a large amount of data on the various compounds in agricultural products, we can’t really even say if it matters.
Our guest today is making progress in defining nutrient density with data and has created an open-source consumer-priced handheld bionutrient meter that can provide a real time percentile of nutrient compound levels in eight different crops so far. He has a vision of someday using nutrient density as an important data point to optimize our food system in a variety of ways. But first we need the data to define what the nutrient profile should look like in each crop and the instrumentation to test this in every level of the food system, which he’ll be the first to admit that we still have a long way to go toward that end.
We have on the show Dan Kittredge. Dan is the Founder and Executive Director of the Bionutrient Food Association. Dan was an organic farmer for more than 30 years and founded the Bionutrient Food Association or BFA with the mission of increasing quality in the food supply. Dan’s perspective is healthier food comes from healthier plants which come from healthier environments. So, if we can develop a reliable and accessible measurement of healthy food, we can use that as a critical metric for a better food system.
Dan’s vision is really interesting: once we have clear definitions and the instrumentation to give everyone access to the data, it creates a feedback loop that can optimize our food system for true quality. Dan believes this can nullify the need for a lot of labels about how a food is grown because what will matter is the data - both on quality and environmental impact. He’s going to share the effects this could have on farming practices, genetics, health and consumer choice. Some of this may stretch your thinking here a little bit and you may find yourself wanting to see the evidence. That’s ok - and the story here is what Dan and the BFA are doing to search for the data to inform this very interesting thesis.
In order to make sure this was a pre-competitive effort, Dan and the team have made their device open source. Dan says it’s a very early version of what we will need in the future, but it has allowed them to initially start collecting data with consumers at grocery stores and farmers markets and grow into working with 150 farmers as they did last year. Dan starts our conversation off with an overview of the Bionutrient Food Association.
John Silvera on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-silvera-02b838175/
Today’s episode is another installment in that series, and it’s a really cool story of how John Silvera, an Independent Crop Consultant in the central valley of California, is using one tool in particular, AgWorld, to offer much more to growers than just agronomic recommendations.
In this episode we’ll talk about the return on investment of farmers hiring independent crop consultants, why John decided to start using AgWorld, and how he estimates he can save an average sized grower around $100,000 per year through his integrated budgeting, agronomic advising, and input purchasing service. We’ll also get into how he’s thinking about the future of agriculture and his crop consulting business.
Today’s show was produced in partnership with AgWorld.
Founded in 2009 with an Australian headquarters in Perth, AgWorld is a global leader in collaborative farm management, enabling farmers, advisors and third parties to work together as one on a single platform. AgWorld’s standardized database makes it quick and easy to create accurate, reportable farm data and serves over 100 million acres across five counties. AgWorld also made headlines recently by announcing it was getting acquired by Semios, and John and I talk about that a little bit in this episode. Learn more about AgWorld at www.AgWorld.com.
The son of a long time farm manager, John Silvera has a degree in Ag Business from Fresno State University. From there he spent about four years working for a large inputs provider before starting his own company in 2016. What I find most striking about John’s story is how he’s leveraging technology to become much more of a trusted business advisor who integrate agronomic decisions with business decisions for his clients.
**JOIN THE FoA COMMUNITY: www.Patreon.com/agriculture.
See GUSS in action: https://gussag.com/
Almond Journey Podcast: https://www.almonds.com/almond-industry/industry-news
We have on the show today another great example of this in GUSS Automation. GUSS stands for Global Unmanned Spray System, and joining me for today’s episode is COO Gary Thompson. As the name implies, GUSS sells a fully autonomous sprayer for use in orchards and vineyards. Which is really interesting, because there is no piece of equipment that goes through these operations more than a sprayer does, so the savings and efficiencies here are compelling.
Gary is going to share their interesting story of how this technology was developed out of their traditional custom spraying business, how they’ve grown without outside capital to start selling these machines, the value and benefits of these machines for farmers and other custom sprayers, and what these capabilities means for the future of agriculture.
GUSS came up on another podcast that I host called the Almond Journey podcast. For any of you who are interested in almonds as a crop, I highly recommend subscribing to that one as well. It’s a little shorter than this one with a different feel and it’s of course focused specifically on almonds. I was talking to a grower on the podcast about his low dust harvest equipment, but he made the point of talking about how happy he was with his purchase of some GUSS sprayers.
Gary Thompson from GUSS grew up on a dairy farm in Arizona and went to Cal Poly where he met a lot of people in the central valley. It was there that he got connected with GUSS, where he now oversees all daily operations including manufacturing, sales, marketing, finances, dealers, and customer relations.
Calgren Renewable Fuels https://www.calgren.com/
Maas Energy Works: https://www.maasenergy.com/
California Milk Advisory Board: https://www.realcaliforniamilk.com/
Dairy Sustainability Award: https://www.usdairy.com/media/press-releases/2021-dairy-sustainability-awards-winners-10-year-anniversary
Today’s episode is a great story of collaboration, public-private partnership, innovation, and sustainability. Before I introduce the guests on today’s show, let me set the scene for you a little bit: a group of 15 dairies in the central valley of California are getting paid to turn their cow manure into renewable fuel. Twelve of these dairies are connected via underground pipeline that transports biogas from on-farm digesters to a centralized conditioning facility which processes and markets the fuel. So the dairies not only receive a milk check, they also receive a manure check. All the while they are drastically reducing their own emissions and replacing 3 million gallons of fossil-fuel diesel with near-zero emissions from dairy-sourced renewable compressed natural gas, or CNG.
This project is a collaboration between a lot of people, including the local dairy farmers, Calgren Dairy Fuels which is the renewable energy company, and Maas Energy Works which makes the digesters. Joining me to talk about this innovative project is Lyle Schlyer, president of Calgren Renewable Fuels, and Daryl Maas, CEO of Maas Energy Works.
I want to recognize that this project was nominated by the California Milk Advisory Board for a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award. They won the award for their socially responsible, economically viable, and environmentally sound impacts on their community. The California Milk Advisory Board brought this incredible story to my attention and was willing to partner with me on this episode to share it with you. If you’re not familiar, they are an instrumentality of the California Department of Food and Agriculture with a vision of nourishing the world with the wholesome goodness of Real California Milk. They are very proud of the fact that dairy farm families in the state have made tremendous progress in reducing their environmental footprint while producing nutritious, planet-smart dairy products, an d becoming world leaders in sustainable farming. Thank you very much to the California Milk Advisory Board for bringing this story to my attention and for partnering with me on today’s episode.
Guy Coleman Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeezaColeman
William Salter Twitter: https://twitter.com/williamtsalter
On the show today we have Guy Coleman, and William Salter. Guy is PhD Student at the University of Sydney and Fulbright Future Scholar currently based at Texas A&M University. His research focuses on the interaction between artificial intelligence for weed recognition and plant morphology in large-scale production systems. Guy also has experience in alternative weed control technologies like lasers and targeted tillage.
Willam Salter, who you will also hear called by his nickname in this episode, Tam, is a postdoctoral agricultural scientist at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on several important aspects of plant and weed science, ranging from improving crop productivity to killing weeds more effectively. William has a keen interest in developing new low cost tools for use in scientific research and the agricultural industry.
The project is called the Open Weed Locator or OWL for short. My two guests today are leading the efforts to develop an open source, low cost weed detection and control device. Essentially, it’s a site-specific spot spraying system that you can make yourself for around $400. Right now, it’s only designed for fallow type weed control scenarios because it sees green and sprays it, so you obviously wouldn’t want it running through a growing crop. However, I think with the open source community that they’re developing, I think it’s only a matter of time before they add the artificial intelligence to identify and spray specific weeds or perhaps even some sort of non-chemical control like electricity or lasers. As you heard Brian talk about last week, the opportunities with low cost hardware in the hands of an innovative community are really incredible.
As if that’s not a cool enough story on its own, we also highlight another project in this episode: Weed AI. It’s a repository of weed imagery in crops. This gets back to something we’ve talked about numerous times on this show: the need for quality data sets for companies to develop artificial intelligence. Weed AI is doing this in a sort of open source way.
These two guys will take us through the evolution of the Open Weed Locator, or OWL, project, the importance of open source technology, the role Weed AI can play in the future of agriculture, and much more.
**Join our upcoming Agtech Investor Roundtable by joining the FoA Community at Patreon.com/agriculture.
Autonomous Tractor Skiing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-T-rrny1Vk
Brian's Twitter: https://twitter.com/efarmerdot
Brian Tischler is a farmer in Alberta, Canada. He farms with his neighbor who he shares equipment with to cover a combined 2,500 acres of wheat, barley, oats, canola, flax, and peas. He started his career in the medical technology industry, which you’re about to hear more about, but then he bought his family’s farm when his dad was ready to retire in the mid 90s.
Brian is going to share how he started learning how to build software to solve a basic problem, and how that lead to a community of thousands of people around the world who are a part of what is now an open source project called AgOpenGPS.
We’ve done a few episodes on open source before, and its really inspiring to see farmers, who have always found ways to hack together solutions to their own problems, do the same with digital technologies as well. Today’s episode will focus on GPS-based technologies including mapping, section control, auto steer and making a tractor autonomous. These technologies exist in the marketplace, but you’re going to hear how our guest and his open source community are finding ways to make them for themselves much cheaper and more tailored to their individual needs.
YouTube videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/uwipm/search?query=erin%20silva
Today’s episode is all about organic farming. Now, organic may be a concept that you have strong opinions about one way or another, but no matter what your perspective, I really encourage you to listen to what our guest has to say.
I originally invited today’s guest, Dr. Erin Silva onto the show to clear up one specific question I had: are organic standards so restrictive that it makes it difficult to grow organically and build soil health through practices like no-till. But once we started the interview I started thinking of all sorts of perceptions of organic that Erin was able to clear up for me. If you’re open to really examining the myths and realities of organic agriculture, we’ve got a great show for you.
Dr. Erin Silva is an associate professor and state extension specialist in organic and sustainable cropping systems at University of Wisconsin - Madison, a position she’s held for about 15 years. She works in partnership with farmers to conduct research related to organic grain production, with a focus on reducing tillage and incorporating soil health practices.
Erin and I will try to pick apart myth from reality on several assumptions that exist out there about organic agriculture, such as:
Of course there is no one perfect system for the future of agriculture, but in my opinion, organic does have an important role to play, and there’s even practices that other growing approaches, even conventional, can learn from the organic principles.
Have a listen and see if you agree. Erin first dove deep into learning about organic agriculture in the early 2000s, but says her real education came when she started working directly with farmers in 2006.
Precision AI: https://www.precision.ai/
Fulcrum Global Capital: https://www.fgcvc.com/
Protein Industries Canada: https://www.proteinindustriescanada.ca/
Today’s episode is another great example of how artificial intelligence and computer vision are impacting the ag industry. Today’s episode will focus on a row crop application. Specifically, we’re talking about new drone spraying technology from Canadian startup Precision AI.
Long time listeners will recall that we’ve talked about drone spraying on the show before, but today’s episode goes even deeper into both the technology and the opportunities that can come from the per plant precision that it offers. Also cool about this episode is our guest, Precision AI founder and CEO Daniel McCann. A three-time startup founder with over 25 years in technology in diverse industries such as artificial intelligence, fintech, security, fast food, and agriculture, Daniel provides a unique perspective on how technology impacts our world. Daniel was a finalist in the 2013 ABEX Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, personally holds six patents, and his previous company NetSecure was mentioned in Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One.
Precision AI is a portfolio company of Fulcrum Global Capital, who I’m very happy to be partnering with again on this episode.
Prime Future Newsletter: https://primefuture.substack.com/
Our guest on today’s show Jordan Lambert actually mentioned back on episode 261. She has a technology that is easily installed in a milking parlor that collects milk data at the individual cow level. Not just on milk quality - which is one big factor, but also on cow health. It turns out, the milk can tell us a lot about how that cow is doing. This way, a dairy producer can see trends in not just their herd as a whole, but also in individual cows.
Bethany Deshpande is on the show. She is the CEO of SomaDetect, which is the company doing all that stuff I just mentioned. Bethany completed her PhD in Biology, and isn’t from a dairy background originally, but started SomaDetect when she saw an opportunity in the industry to apply some technology originally developed by her father. We’ll get more into that background later in the episode.
But she’s certainly dove headfirst into the dairy industry these past five years since starting the company. This is a great profile of what’s possible as we continue to find new ways to both collect data, but really to put it into management practices. I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned here about the future of agriculture, whether dairy is of interest to you or not.
Here is my conversation with SomaDetect CEO Bethany Deshpande.
Benson Hill: https://bensonhill.com/
Today’s episode features Matt Crisp, CEO and co-founder of Benson Hill. Benson Hill describes themselves as a food tech company unlocking the natural genetic diversity of plants with its cutting-edge food innovation engine. Basically, they are trying to improve plant-based ingredients by attacking every aspect of the value chain from seed to processing to sales.
The “plant-based” movement so far, has been trying to mimic the flavors and nutrition of the products they are trying to replace. Matt Crisp’s vision at Benson Hill that you’ll hear today on this show, is that they have the chance to surpass those products, but they will have to do so with better ingredients - which can only come as a result of better genetics and processing.
Matt’s road into health, nutrition, and agriculture actually came from his early career in venture capital. Hearing about how those things tie together is how we’ll start today’s episode with Benson Hill CEO and co-founder, Matt Crisp.
Matt has also appeared on a couple of other agtech podcasts recently:
The Modern Acre
AGCO Corp: https://www.agcocorp.com/
Upstream Ag Insights: https://upstreamaginsights.substack.com/
Software is Feeding the World: https://rpethe.substack.com/
Today’s guest is Louisa Parker-Smith, who is the Global Head of Sustainability for AGCO Corporation. Most of you listening know all about AGCO - they are a major farm machinery designer, manufacturer, and distributor, including tractors, combine harvesters, hay & forage machinery. This includes brands like Fendt, Massey Furgeson, Challenger, Valtra, Gleaner, and many others. They also have a growing grain and protein division which offers grain storage, seed processing, and protein production equipment.
In Louisa’s role as head of sustainability, she sets strategy for AGCO’s sustainability programs and ESG which stands for environmental, social, and governance. It’s a very hot topic especially among publicly traded companies, which AGCO is. Sustainability roles like Louisa’s are unique, in that she is constantly engaging with all of the key stakeholders surrounding the business: customers, dealers, AGCO colleagues, and investors. It’s also a role that requires her to be thinking much further out than most others. She says she’s regularly thinking 10 years out or longer, which brings a very interesting perspective on the future of agriculture.
In today’s episode, we talk about ESG and the interest of investors to know what AGCO is doing in terms of sustainability, where AGCO is focusing their efforts particularly on reducing emissions including scope 3 emissions which includes the footprint of their customers who use their products, future innovations in farm machinery, and her time in Africa where she held multiple roles with the company including Director of Distribution Development on the continent.
Visit Bushel online: https://bushelpowered.com/
Today’s episode takes a peak inside one of the hottest agtech companies to come along in recent years: Bushel. I’ve known about Bushel for a couple of years now, and originally just understood them to be a company that was digitizing scale tickets, which is actually how they started. Scale tickets, for those of you who don’t know, are the paper receipt that accompanies a load of an agricultural commodity that usually includes how much was delivered to where, what the grade factors were, etc. It’s really important because historically this is what is used to get paid properly, to keep effective records, and to have a paper trail for bankers, etc.
Then this year they raised a $47M series B round and acquired long time farm management software company FarmLogs, and it became clear that I needed to get them on the show to explain all of these pieces and how they fit together.
Joining me is Bushel co-founder and CEO Jake Joraanstad as well as Jesse Vollmar, who was the cofounder and CEO of FarmLogs and now is the VP of Farm Strategy at Bushel after the acquisition. We discuss why a company that is focused on supply chain would get into the farm management software business, what is digital infrastructure and how it makes money, why they don’t see blockchain as the answer for this digital infrastructure, and how they might use the data they’re collecting to provide unprecedented insights back to their customers.
Bushel has some pretty impressive feathers in their cap: they’ve raised a total of around $75M now, much of it from corporate venture capital arms of large grain companies such as Cargill, Scoular, The Andersons, and Continental Grain (which I actually think is more of an investor and holding company than a grain company nowadays, but we’ll count them anyway). Even more impressive is that Bushel boasts 60,000 active users on its platform, which is used at 2,000 grain buying locations throughout the US and Canada. They reach 40% of grain origination in the US and handle $22 billion of grain contracts each year.
Learn more about SWAT Maps: https://www.swatmaps.com/
Fieldwalker Agronomy: https://fieldwalker.ca/
Jonathan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ZRAgri
Today’s episode is all about precision agriculture, so if you’re into agronomy and variable rate technology, or what our guest would prefer to call optimal rate technology, you’re in for a real treat. If these terms are new to you, at a basic level we are talking about technology that is being used to understand the variability of a field so that the precise (hence the name precision) amounts of a given seed, fertilizer, or other input can be applied in a way that maximizes the crop response, and of course, overall profitability. Plants don’t grow by the acre, they grow on an individual basis and may respond differently based on site-specific factors. For more on precision ag, find these previous FoA episodes: 256, 244, 243, 218, 211, 200, 196, 179, 175, 108, 25.
Today’s episode is part of a series I’m doing called the Tech-Enabled Advisor. These are episodes I’m releasing once per month with the intention of better understanding agtech through the lense of the buyers and users rather than just the entrepreneurs or investors. We’ve done four of these so far: 255, 259, 264, and 269, and from what I’ve been hearing the reception has been excellent.
Joining me on today’s episode to talk about precision ag is Jonathan Zettler, who is an agronomist and the founder of Fieldwalker Agronomy Limited, a private crop consultancy in Minto, Ontario. After 17 seasons in ag retail, Jonathan launched the company to provide “profitable, actionable advice” to farmer customers.
To make sure we hear from different types of guests on this Tech-Enabled Advisor series, I’ve asked various agtech companies to partner with me on these episodes. For today’s episode, I’m fortunate to be partnering with Croptmistic Technology, the creators of SWAT Maps. Some of you may remember Croptimistic from my interview with company president Cory Willness last year in episode 211, or the separate podcast I do in partnership with them called SWAT Agronomy. Jonathan at FieldWalker was the first provider to test and start offering SWAT Maps in Eastern Canada.
For a brief refresher on SWAT Maps, SWAT stands for soil, water, and topography. These maps are high resolution soil foundation maps used to execute variable rate fertilizer, seed, soil amendment, herbicide, and precision water management. Instead of just using imagery of vegetation, also known as NDVI imagery, SWAT Maps takes an integrated soil-based approach that starts with RTK or LIDAR elevation, soil color sensors, and electrical conductivity. Then they use that data to build more useful layers: topography models, water flow paths, normalized EC layers, and soil organic matter. With a patented process and proprietary software tools, layers are modeled into a single encompassing map that depicts soil properties, water influences, and topography of the field. Croptimistic Technology is the company that created SWAT Maps and they partner with companies like Jonathan’s to implement the technology and combine it with local agronomic advice. Learn more about them at SWATMaps.com.
In today’s episode, Jonathan and I discuss the evolution of precision agriculture adoption in his area of Ontario. How he is building his agronomy business using SWAT Maps as part of his foundation. His agronomy tech stack, what tool he still would like to see created, and why tech will never fully replace the agronomist. Oh, and why he prefers the term “optimal rate” over the term “variable rate”.
"From Farms to Incubators" book: https://bookshop.org/books/from-farms-to-incubators-women-innovators-revolutionizing-how-our-food-is-grown/9781610355759
We have on the show Ponsi Trivisvavet, who is the CEO of Inari, the SEEDesign company that uses predictive design and advanced multiplex gene editing to unlock the full potential of seed to build a more sustainable future for the food system.
Ponsi joined Inari in 2018 when they were just over a year old. Since that time they have grown from a 35-person company to a 190-person company. Before Inari, she held a number of leadership roles at Syngenta, most recently as president of Syngenta Seeds North America.
Today’s episode talks about some of the potential for gene editing for the future of our most widely grown crops, the approach Inari is taking to commercialize this technology, whether or not consumers are accepting this more than they did with GMO’s, and what impact this could have on farmer profitability and overall sustainability.
This interview with Ponsi was coordinated by today's co-host, Amy Wu, who is the author of the new book “From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food is Grown”. Ponsi is one of several women innovators featured in the book and I highly recommend you pick it up. You’ll recognize other former guests of this podcast like Pam Marrone, Fatma Kaplan, Sarah Nolet, Mariana Vasconcelos, Christine Su, and others.
TED Talk: Why we fear the food we eat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thiOicCQRWY
White paper: The role of innovation in transforming the food system: https://animalagalliance.org/resource/white-paper-the-role-of-innovation-in-transforming-the-global-food-system/
I have on the show a guest whose work I’ve followed for a long time, and someone who I’ve connected with a handful of times over the years, and am really glad to finally get him on the show, Mr. Jack Bobo. Jack is a food futurist and the author of ‘Why smart people make bad food choices.’ He is also the CEO of Futurity, a food foresight company that advises companies, foundations and governments on emerging food trends and consumer attitudes and behaviors related to the future of food. Recognized by Scientific American in 2015 as one of the 100 most influential people in biotechnology, Jack is a global thought leader who has delivered more than 500 speeches in 50 countries. He previously served as the Chief Communications Officer and Senior Vice President for Global Policy and Government Affairs at Intrexon Corporation. Prior to joining Intrexon Jack worked at the U.S. Department of State for thirteen years as a senior advisor for global food policy.
The first part of our conversation today will be about Jack’s new book “Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices”, then we’ll pivot into what these dynamics mean for agriculture, which opens up what I think is a fascinating conversation about the future of food and ag after that which weaves in points about sustainability, differentiation, and food policy. So you’ll definitely want to make sure you stick around for that.
SWARMFarm Robotics https://www.swarmfarm.com/
Carbon Robotics https://carbonrobotics.com/
Today’s episode is going to be a highlight reel from a virtual event I hosted for the FoA community. That event was an ag robotics roundtable, which featured six robotics companies to have a discussion about the challenges and opportunities of bringing more automation to agriculture. The event lasted every bit of the 90 minutes we had scheduled, and it was even more enlightening than I had anticipated.
So today, I’m going to bring you some of the highlights from that event in a condensed format, and make sure that You’re going to get a chance to hear more about:
We’re not going to get too far into the weeds about the technical aspects of each of the robots represented here, but I’ll do my best to introduce you to these six ag robotics leaders and their companies along the way. Just as a preview, you’re going to hear from (in order of appearance):
PMA Takes on Tech: https://www.pma.com/content/podcast/takes-on-tech
Today's two part episode starts off with a higher-level picture of the innovations in produce with Vonnie Estes, vice president of technology for the Produce Marketing Association. Then we’ll drill deeper into one aspect of food quality, arguably the most important aspect of food quality: flavor. For that we’ll talk to Josh Silverman, CEO of Aromyx, a company that is digitizing taste and smell.
I was able to sit down with Vonnie Estes and capture some valuable insights about the challenges and opportunities of bringing technology to the produce industry, the role of indoor agriculture in fresh produce, alternative funding models for companies that want to serve some of these niches, and the digitization of quality and of supply chains, which will of course lead us into part two with Josh.
Vonnie Estes is the VP of Technology at the Produce Marketing Association. She has held leadership positions at prominent companies including DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta along with start-ups including DNAP, Emergent Genetics, and Caribou Biosciences. Vonnie has a BS in Horticulture from New Mexico State and a Masters in Plant Pathology from UC Davis.
Also joining me is Aromyx CEO Josh Silverman. Josh has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, and is a serial entrepreneur. He has been the founder of 5 different biotech companies, including some in the new protein ingredient space. It was through these experiences of trying to bring sustainable foods and ingredients to the market that he realized flavor is most important, but was also really subjective and nearly impossible to predict. So he joined Aromyx, and the company just recently a $10 million series A round with investors that included the Rabobank Food & Agri Innovation Fund.
This episode is brought to you by AgVend (www.AgVend.com)
Today’s installment of our Tech-Enabled Advisor series is really an insightful look at how a farmer-owned cooperative is leaning into the digital changes that are happening in our industry to remain relevant and provide value to their farmer shareholders. KC Graner is the senior vice president of agronomy at Central Farm Service, a co-op in southern Minnesota. As an advocate of the cooperative system, KC has spent his career embedded in member-owned organizations. Prior to taking on his role at Central Farm Service, KC worked at WinField United, serving over two dozen different retail cooperatives across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
For today’s episode, we are partnering with AgVend. You may remember AgVend from Episode 125 back in 2018 with CEO Alexander Reichert. AgVend is the leading provider of digital tools to serve the producer of tomorrow. Their suite of products is designed to strengthen the relationship between manufacturers, retailers, and growers by providing the agricultural distribution channel with white-labeled information, engagement, and commerce portals. They make it easier to do business with ag retailers, help them unlock profitability for their growers, and make more time for high-value touchpoints.
“What we've seen is the outperformance of growers who do leverage data and do look to it first in making their decisions. Those are the ones that are outperforming the rest…. Those are the growers that are picking up acres more rapidly.” - KC Graner
KC shares what offering an AgVend portal has done for Central Farm Service’s business. Central Farm Service has grown their locally-powered precision agriculture platform, which is called Central Advantage, to a 300,000 acre footprint that cooperates with two neighboring retailers. He sees their operation as a “B.S. meter” for the farmer and a way to trial and troubleshoot new technology to present the best options to producers.
“When I look at the adoption rate for use in our portal, there's a high correlation to those that are selling the most revenue and the most margin for the cooperative and using the portal. It's because they already naturally are the types of people that find ways to save time so they can do more.” - KC Graner
This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:
Thanks to AgVend for sponsoring this episode. Make sure you go learn more about them at www.AgVend.com
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Today’s episode is broken down into three parts: first, a brief primer on some of the issues contributing to the issues in California. Second, one potential hydrological solution going forward: groundwater recharge. And finally, we’ll talk about water markets by highlighting the new Nasdaq Veles California Water Index. To help me tell each of these three stories I have for you three different guests that you’ll hear from today: Dr. Safeeq Khan, Dr. Helen Dahlke, and Lance Coogan.
You can also listen to previous episodes 159 with Dr. David Zetland, 161 with Adam Borchard, or 198 with Chris Peacock to get more information about these topics.
Resilient Biotics: https://resilientbiotics.com/
Fulcrum Global Capital: https://www.fgcvc.com/
My guest on today’s show is Chris Belnap, the CEO of Resilient Biotics, which is an early-stage animal health company that develops microbiome-derived, live therapeutics for livestock. In other words, they analyze the microbes that naturally live inside of cattle, then they administer those that are most beneficial to make the cattle more resilient to certain diseases. Specifically they are focused on a biological solution to bovine respiratory disease, which is currently very reliant on antibiotics.
Resilient Biotics is a portfolio company of Fulcrum Global Capital, which long time listeners will remember have partnered with me on several episodes in the past. What stands out about Fulcrum, and you can probably pick up on this if you’ve listened to all of these episodes with portfolio companies from their first fund, is that their LPs, their investors, are from production agriculture. They care about solving real problems in the food system.
One of the perks of these Fulcrum episodes for you and I is that we get to hear briefly from the investors first about what attracted them to this company, then we dive into the entrepreneur’s story. So joining me today is Fulcrum venture partner John Peryam, who along with his venture partners Duane Cantrell and Kevin Lockett, had been looking at potential companies who could help reduce reliance on antibiotics.