What emerging technologies offer the best opportunity to deliver on a sustainable and resilient food system? The organisers at World Agri-Tech spoke to 12 active investors to uncover their thoughts.

Next Generation Crop Protection & Sustainable Inputs

Christina Ulardic, ASTANOR VENTURES“One of the noteworthy trends: Biologicals, including biostimulants & biopesticides, provide promising alternatives to traditional pesticides and fertilizers. Innovation in biologicals is needed to overcome the accumulation of toxins and excess nutrients in our soils and oceans due to agricultural runoff. Technology platforms such as Aphea.Bio’s are ushering in a new form of agriculture that is regenerative instead of extractive and stand accelerate progress towards urgent biodiversity, climate, water and ocean goals.” Christina Ulardic, Partner, ASTANOR VENTURES 

“There are two major areas I’m watching in the future of crop protection – the first is precision applications. The next generation of crop protection will be characterized by growers making increasingly precise applications of products tailored to their specific crop protection needs. The full stack of enabling technologies, from sensing and decision support to autonomous applications, are interesting investment areas – provided those technologies can truly shift grower behaviors. I’m also fascinated by the ongoing biological revolution in crop protection. So many entrepreneurs are driving to do with biology what we do today with chemistry, from active ingredients to production. Take Micropep Technologies, a company we recently invested in – they are developing small peptides into products that can regulate plant traits, building toward products that will allow growers to spray biology the way they spray chemistry today. Harnessing the full power of biology will be mission-critical to the future of crop protection.” Sara Olson, Principal, FMC VENTURES

“The greatest investment opportunities in crop nutrition and sustainable inputs are in the areas of biofertilizers and biostimulants as well as nutrient use efficiency (NUE), specially nitrogen fixation. Hadar Sutovsky, ICLFertilizers application rates are plateauing in the US and Europe and in addition, regulation in the EU is aiming to reduce fertiliser consumption by 20% by 2030. Thus, innovation in biofertilizers and organic fertilizers is key from a sustainability perspective as key solutions for reinventing the global agri industry, so that’s where I see the greatest opportunity.” Hadar Sutovsky, VP External Innovation Lead & GM ICL Planet, ICL

“The greatest investment opportunities within the next generation crop protection and sustainable inputs include: smart reduction of input amounts including crop protection and fast breeding, including precision breeding. We see exciting agri-food investments opportunities in plant based protein and meat substitution, cost efficient vertical farming and bio based ingredients.” Claus Hackmann, Investment Manager, BASF VENTURE CAPITAL

Reinventing the Food System

“Food sits at the intersection of two subjects that we take very seriously at Wheatsheaf – human health and the health of the environment. We are focused on reimagining our entire food system from the extremes of improving the soil biome to growing food more efficiently and sustainably, all the way through to better understanding the impact that food has on the human microbiome and our health. Technologies to reduce food waste, upgrade farm-to-table supply chains, innovate protein production, deploy controlled environment agriculture and improve food packaging are all examples of areas we have invested in to address both climate change and improve human health. Food is part of a complex interconnected system and we recognise that there is no single panacea for the problems facing our sector.  A combination of diverse but complementary approaches seems likely to fuel exciting growth for a large number of the start-ups working hard to tackle these issues head on.” Katrin Burt, Executive Director, WHEATSHEAF GROUP

“The next generation of seeds is not in the commodity markets but in niche markets. Future crops are in the plant based protein space, bioeconomy and nutritions markets. Adaptation to the g*e*m formular is going to be more granular in order to allow for high yields. Soil-customization via seed technologies is going to be another driver of next generation seeds. The next generation nutritions will have to fix the breeding damages caused in the past: higher vitamin content, more antioxidant agents, return of bittering agents” Alexander Wiegelmann, VP M&A/Head of Transactions, KWS

“Considerable opportunities continue to lie in the Alternative Proteins space as it responds to changing consumer behaviors and to the need of a more resource efficient food production system. Just as one example, Europe is host to potential category creators in Insect Farming. Zooming in on primary production within the agricultural value chain, we see robotics and crop tech as investment hot spots as they both respond to long term trends impacting the sector (labor shortage, demand for healthier products with reduced footprint, …), while the hype for indoor farming may have passed. Advances in gene editing technics and computer assisted genomics make plant engineering interesting to either increase nutritional quality of plants or increase their yield. This sector however entails a lot of uncertainties for us as a European investor, be it from a regulatory or consumer acceptance standpoint. On the data side of things, we will continue to look into Platforms, Software, Sensing and IOT.” Stéphane Roussel, Venture Partner, ECBF

“The most exciting opportunities in sustainable agri-food are the ones that deliver a clear win-win across the stakeholder ecosystem. We believe that this is now possible because in our view, we are reaching an inflection point. Climate-positive innovations in agri-food have de-risked their tech and are rivalling status quo alternatives on cost and delivering a better overall value proposition. At the same time, attitudes towards sustainability along the value chain are shifting, and climate impact is becoming a more important dimension in decision making. Whereas sustainability has historically been approached with a zero-sum mentality, what is becoming resoundingly clear is that we do not need to trade off value for values. There are a few companies that we have seen do this well. One example is Pivot Bio that is revolutionizing crop nutrition by using biological solutions to displace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer; this enables material emissions and environmental impact as well as compelling efficacy, cost, and ROI for growers. We see that the company produces benefits for multiple stakeholders – whether it is growers, consumers, the companies themselves, or climate change and the environment – and that to us is crucial for catalysing true ‘System Positive’ change at scale.” Aobo Guo, Growth Equity Investor, GENERATION INVESTMENT 

Max Clegg, Head, LDC INNOVATIONS“The potential of gene editing and accelerated breeding/phenotyping techniques (non-GE) to focus on output traits will be transformative (but will require development more vertical integration / closed loop supply chains); also, the tools will become cheaper to employ and the focus will move from the tools to the commercialization of the most novel products.” Max Clegg, Head, LDC INNOVATIONS


Addressing Environmental Imperatives

“The sustainability goal is entirely aligned with the producers’ goal to produce more from less. The greatest investment opportunities are those which capitalise on this alignment – addressing environmental imperatives, producer and consumer needs in tandem (not one at the expense of the other). Sectors with fully aligned tailwinds include: new production chains (e.g. alt proteins) and initiatives to reduce waste (e.g. in post-harvest treatment), improve yield (e.g. biological crop protection) and enhance food quality (e.g. nutrient dense genetics and/or production systems).” Kieran Mahanty, Director, BLUE HORIZON

Nicky Deasy, Managing Partner, The Yield Lab Europe“Climate change and extreme weather is going to create enormous challenges to our industry, and again, will require significant investment in new technologies, from breeding of new varieties that can better withstand heat and drought, to better water management that can provide irrigation to crops, to new pests and diseases that will emerge in a hotter climate. […] We also need better measurement systems to accurately, quickly and automatically measure carbon emissions and carbon sequestration around the world, in a way that is very low cost.  We cannot manage what we do not measure. Current systems are slow and laborious, or are not reliable and accurate enough. High quality measurement underpins things like carbon marketplaces and carbon credits.” Nicky Deasy, Managing PartnerTHE YIELD LAB EUROPE

“At Capagro we do not believe in a silver bullet solution addressing climate change but rather in the multiplier effect of addressing various issues from different angles based on the realities of local markets. We do believe that innovation is key in promoting new solutions within incumbent agri-food companies through the blossoming of innovative start-ups. The key is for countries to provide a stable regulatory and tax framework that will form the basis of attractive economics and sound investing from private sources. The availability of funds is key to ensure the long term development of start-ups and solutions. Start-ups with solutions that offers ways to generate productivity improvements; such as land, water, carbon and other use efficiency; such as resilient crop and livestock production, have more chances to succeed in the short term and contribute to the CPO26 objectives.” Tom Espiard-Cignaco, President & Managing Director, CAPAGRO

Join over 800 global senior leaders at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit on September 28-29 as we unite food and agribusiness leaders, investors, technology developers and start-ups to uncover solutions and business models that will enable the transition to a low carbon economy.View the full conference agenda and speakers at www.worldagritechinnovation.com

The early bird offer ends August 13.