21st July 2024

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Agricultural applied sciences (AgTech) is an enviornment of the clear tech ecosystem that may handle a great chunk of our international local weather altering emissions. Estimates vary extensively relying on how issues are measured, however suffice to say, I feel we are able to depart it at “a great chunk.” I’ll break it down into just a few classes, and supply some prognostications for the 12 months forward in every subject.

There are many hopeful indicators within the agriculture house that don’t relate to tech. Right here’s only a sampling, after which I’ll get to extra the AgTech stuff under.

  1. Farmers’ markets are extremely widespread — rising from round 1500 within the U.S. within the early ’90s to 7x that these days. Whereas development has slowed, there has not been a bottoming out, so it seems farmers’ markets are right here to remain.
  2. Sale of natural meals merchandise within the US principally doubled within the final ten years or so.
  3. A rising consciousness of the hazards of plastic use have resulted in lots of meals producers redesigning their packaging and even placing issues like “85% much less plastic” proper on the label, an ideal factor for public training.

Cell-based Meat

It is a expertise I’ve been enthusiastic about for years. The thought is straightforward — develop a burger in a petri dish, roughly. Remove the cow (and all its methane burps and farts), the extreme quantity of land and water wanted to develop an oz. of meat, the fossil fuels wanted to ship dwell cows round (even “grass fed” cows are sometimes shipped generally hundreds of miles to fatten up on GMO corn and soy earlier than slaughter) or the refrigerated vans, transport containers, and so forth., to ship across the beef after slaughter, the degradation of soil, the clearcutting of the Amazon, and so forth.

Making it occur on a manufacturing scale just isn’t so easy. To date the tech nonetheless lives within the laboratory, regardless of billions of {dollars} of funding in additional than 100 cell-meat startups.

Isha Datar, Government Director of New Harvest (a cultured meat analysis institute) predicted in 2021 that the business was roughly on the prime of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” on Gartner’s Hype Cycle. Principally, a ton of curiosity and cash flowed into the house, together with a Google funded $250Okay burger, after which the fact set in — that this sh*t is difficult AF. Lately, Datar up to date her graphic to mirror the place she thinks mobile ag is at present:

Picture from Isha Datar, New Harvest — used with permission

Once I spoke with Datar, she steered that this can be a essential step, and nonetheless represents progress. Extra on that in a minute.

Josh Posamentier, co-founder of Congruent Ventures, an early stage enterprise targeted on all issues local weather, agrees. Posamentier reviewed fairly just a few pitches by startups searching for funding on this house in 2023, and got here away with the sense that it’s nonetheless a methods off.

“Cell ag is essentially derived from medical grade processes and has by no means scaled,” he mentioned. “Probably the most bold of cell ag reactors are nonetheless smaller than different fermentation firm’s pilot reactors, by no means thoughts the manufacturing ones. Final 12 months, a number of cell ag firms specializing in meat claimed to have hit key milestones … however many are nonetheless not in a position to carry out in absolutely submerged development processes (the way in which different fermentation has scaled) and continues to be on-scaffold development, not as quick or as scalable.”

Datar suggests this isn’t a foul factor. “It’s nonetheless progress,” she mentioned, citing that that is simply how issues go in tech, and that it’s a essential step for an business nonetheless figuring itself out. Datar factors out that the inflow of cash and curiosity spawned lots of good issues: many nations have began investing public cash (tens of tens of millions, to be clear, but it surely’s a begin….), and several other universities have opened labs within the subject.

I usually take a look at different types of disruptive expertise to see how issues may go within the local weather house. GE began engaged on the primary lab-grown diamond within the 1950s, for instance, however commercialization actually solely occurred within the 2020’s – roughly three generations later. These days, diamond consumers are doubtless to purchase a lab grown diamond with out even noticing. It comes with far fewer local weather emissions, no slave labor, no poisonous mine chemical leaching… so many good issues. A lab-grown burger could be comparable, and anybody within the know or working within the business will see this coming as an inevitability. That inevitability will begin making traders and lenders within the conventional animal husbandry business rather less prepared to place cash out – so the seeds planted within the interval of inflated expectations in mobile meat are already at work and are going to win in the long run. It’s solely a matter of time.

Farms

Utilizing expertise on farms just isn’t so simple as it appears. Farmers are typically cautious adopters, and with good purpose. One unhealthy 12 months gained’t essentially destroy the enterprise, however string just a few collectively and unhealthy issues occur. Posamentier expects to see lots of automation initiatives this 12 months.

“I see labor scarcity as being the large driver,” mentioned Posamentier. “The undercurrent of most farmers’ view on expertise is that they’ll get at most 30-40 photographs on objective all through their working lifetimes. When that’s it, there’s solely a lot danger they’ll take. My private expertise with farmers is that they’re extremely tech-forward when one thing’s confirmed. Adoption for autonomy and semi-autonomy in broad acre crops (from Deere and Trimble) was quick and is now pervasive. However 100% of operations have an operator within the cab. Beginning with immigration crackdown initially after which COVID, labor markets tightened up dramatically necessitating the necessity to do extra with much less.”

One instance Posamentier provides is Bonsai Robotics, an AI firm Congruent has invested in. The corporate’s tech leads to fewer passes over the identical floor, which has some impact on soil well being, however principally helps the monetary backside line of the farm.

Precision fermentation

In comparison with Mobile meat, precision fermentation is probably going a lot farther alongside on the Gartner Cycle. Maybe that is due to its flexibility. In keeping with the Good Meals Institute, precision fermentation has helped create the elements that plant-based meals want with a view to substitute animal merchandise. They cite the dairy proteins in Good Day’s plant-based “dairy” merchandise, the egg proteins by Clara Meals, and the heme proteins within the Inconceivable Meals’ suite of merchandise.

In case you’ve ever tasted a Past Burger, Inconceivable Burger, Simply Egg, or so lots of the different plant based mostly options, you’ve doubtless been concurrently impressed, amazed, and considerably frightened at how shut it resembles its animal cousin.

We’ll proceed to see development on this utilitarian house this 12 months, creating lots of the mandatory widgets, cogs, and levers wanted to advance a few of the different fields of AgTech.

Biomass fermentation

That is the method by which microbes are used to not create elements, however are the product themselves. Good Meals Institute cites filamentous fungi created this fashion as a base for Quorn and Meati, two startups within the alt protein house.

We must always see in 2024 some vital motion within the subject of fungi packaging changing plastic packaging. It’s a nascient business however with many municipalities and states and nations beginning to have a look at partial and full single use plastic bans, the market is ripe.

Giant-scale ag and GMOs

GMO monocrops of corn, soy, and wheat dominate an enormous portion of the earth’s arable land. The full arable land of the US (globally #1 on this class) plus Argentina is roughly equal to the full international arable lands used for GMO agriculture globally.

We don’t see any vital shift on this house this 12 months. It’s a mature business, and can doubtless simply decay over time as innovation makes this fossil gas and chemical-intensive course of an increasing number of out of date over time. The main blow to GMOs will come when mobile meats actually hit market development — since many of the world’s GMO crops are grown to feed cows, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. So sooner or later, the center man will probably be minimize out — and far of that arable land will return to forest, prairie, and so forth.


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