• December 1, 2022

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Migel Tissera, Co-Founder and CTO of Metaspectral, says that technology has a significant role in improving agriculture sustainability.

“Automation of manual labor is an obvious application, but there is also a significant opportunity in utilizing technologies like advanced spectral analysis for precision farming,” said Tissera. “When spectral data, which contains information from across the electromagnetic spectrum, is analyzed using deep learning, it is possible to identify the material composition of what is captured in the images.”

Tissera says that with this data, you can create environmental models for GHG mapping, quantifying carbon sequestration, measuring chlorophyll levels, detecting crop diseases, and measuring soil moisture content. “This makes it possible for farmers to take hyper-localized, targeted actions on their farm such as knowing where to put Nitrogen, Potassium or Phosphorus to produce the best result.”

“The main advantage of utilizing data pulled from satellite observation is its scalability,” said Tissera. “It allows us to analyze vast swaths of land, which is complementary to aerial platforms such as drones, where that data is much more localized.”

Tissera says that with data from space observation, they can create models that cover more extensive parts of the atmosphere, giving a god’s-eye view of the land.

“This makes it possible to create greenhouse gas models that span entire provinces and countries,” said Tissera. “By zooming out and getting a broader, more holistic view, we can then create policies and legislation at the national level.”

But Tissera also believes there are financial barriers to deploying some more advanced technologies.

“While the costs associated with new technologies eventually decrease over time, this should still, in my opinion, also be addressed at the tax level, where we look at giving tax breaks to farmers who embrace new technologies that improve sustainability outcomes,” said Tissera.

Pitchbook’sPitchbook’s December 2021 Emerging Tech Research shows that agtech startups had raised $3.2 B in the third quarter of 2021. The report leans heavily into why funding has increased, including concern for food security during global supply chain disruptions, data-enabled crop productivity gains, and environmentally friendly agricultural techniques. VC-backed funding centered on ag biologicals – environmentally friendly alternatives to synthetic fertilizers and emerging technology in the form of in-field sensors and hyperspectral imaging with drones.

AI-powered robotics

Jonathan Berte, founder and former CEO of Robovision, says society is expecting more from agriculture; more mouths to feed but with a lower impact on the environment and higher anticipated quality of produce but keeping prices from escalating,

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“To make it even more challenging, labor shortages are becoming a structural phenomenon, so farmers and growers need to do things differently to stay profitable and because developed countries translate the societal expectations to stricter regulation,” said Berte. “For example, to fulfill the growing need for healthy vegetables and not use polluting pesticides anymore, AI-powered weeding robots will need to be deployed at scale.”

Berte says that he expects to see a new automation wave driven by AI-powered robotics in the next decade.

“We expect horticulture to lead the way and outdoor agriculture to follow suit; with weeding and crop work, robots will become normal in the next few years,” said Berte. “We also expect to see AI-enabled farm management systems that enable micro-level decision making – every individual plant gets exactly the water or nutrients it needs to grow optimally.”

Berte believes that AI will play a crucial role in creating sustainable farming. “Smart machinery will help us use fewer pesticides, water, and land for the same output. Also, it will help us grow the food we need closer to where the consumers are.”

“Eventually, we will have AI-powered robotics handling our animals and plants, and they will be optimally steered by AI-powered farm management systems that get smarter over time,” added Berte.

Berte says that further down the road, food processing companies and retailers will interact with farm management systems, and AI systems will be able to match consumer demand and farmer’s supply optimally, decreasing waste and optimizing quality.

“So in many ways, AI systems will become an essential enabling technology the Agri and food ecosystems need to cope with major societal challenges,” said Berte.

A gamified ESG platform

Derek Lyons, co-founder and CTO at Actual, says they are seeing a lot of talk around Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) right now. “But there is a gap in the market between making net-zero promises and executing them.”

The company has created an ESG platform that can assess risk, identify carbon hot spots and demonstrate practical paths such as regenerative agriculture practices to net zero.

The platform was created with game-like elements reminiscent of the SimCity computer game with vivid 3D modeling options and precise satellite-based renderings of projects, making ESG action plans visual and interactive.

Lyons says that their ESG tool is not focused on data collection, monitoring and accounting but the actions to reduce emissions and helps farms translate their sustainability goals into concrete plans. “We enable farms to translate the latest science into detailed on-the-ground change.”

The company worked with the New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) regenerative wool platform (ZQRX) to enable 600 wool farms covering more than 3.5M acres of New Zealand farmland to transition to net zero wool production.

“We worked with the company to identify specific acre-by-acre actions that could reduce emissions at over 300 ZQRX farms by nearly 70%,” said Lyons. “That reduction is an emissions reduction equivalent to replacing every gas car in San Francisco with an electric vehicle,” said Lyons.

“These farms which supply some of the finest quality wool in the world to global fashion brands like Allbirds, VF Corporation, and Loro Piana – now have a course to deliver net zero natural fibers at a scale that has never been accomplished before,” said Lyons.

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