Food Innovation

The Agtech revolution​ is here

Find out what's trending in the food industry's biggest transformation since the industrial revolution

Science fiction and futurists visions (e.g. Brian D. Colwell) commonly depict robots running agricultural production, for example automated farm harvest machinery in the film Interstellar.

But this vision is now science fact, and new technologies and innovations that exploit robotics, machine learning, computer vision, lasers, big data, block chain, genomics, glycomics, proteomics, supply chain analytics and customer behavioural understanding are now vastly improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of food production, processing and distribution like never before.

I attended the AusBiotech AusAg and Food Tech Summit in Adelaide last week, and it was an interesting group of discussions and insights focussing exactly on these issues and providing an insight into the future of the food sector.

The catch line of the conference is ‘Turning science into business’ and we heard from investors, customers, tech creators, enablers and start up companies.

So what was trending?

Well we heard alot about:

  1. Precision agriculture, and the efficient delivery of
    •   irrigation
    •   pesticides
    •   antibiotics
  2. Big data
  3. Internet of things
  4. Drones
  5. Block chain tracking
  6. Chemical and DNA provenancing
  7. Waste reuse and reduction

agtech

I also had the pleasure of hosting and MCing the final session entitled ‘What does success look like?‘ which aimed to provide recent success stories and inspiration about where start-up or early stage companies can end up. We heard from:

Matthew Pryor – Cofounder & CTO, Observant – Observant has been at the forefront of the application of the Internet of Things (EyeOtee, for those in the know) and BigData to solving the challenges of improving agricultural productivity through a focus on precision farm water management.

Dr. Mark Heffernan, Chief Executive Officer, NexvetBiopharma – Nexvet focusses on developing pain medication for pets using monoclonal antibodies. It has raised over US$80 million, including $40m in a NASDAQ public listing in 2015, and was recently sold for $110M to the world’s largest animal health company, Zoetis.

sundrop.png.653x0_q80_crop-smart
Sundrop farms – Port Augusta, South Australia

Steve Marafiote – CEO of Sundrop Farms – Sundrop has been a major success story for covered horticulture and now provides pretty much all the vine-ripened tomatoes supplied to Coles across Australia. The location of the farm was specifically selected for the levels of sunlight and the farm runs almost totally off-grid, desalinating seawater using solar energy, which also heats the greenhouses.

Robert Burbury – Chief Executive Officer, The HealthyGrain – THG focusses on developing new varieties of grains for a more health conscious consumer.

Dr Paul Harrison – Head of Innovation, Mainstream Aquaculture – Mainstream has grown to become a leading Australian aquaculture company and exports stock to 21 countries. The company has also developed the unique ‘golden’ barramundi which sells extremely well into Asian markets.

Cameron Scadding – Executive Chairman, Source Certain International PtyLtd – which develops chemical tracing technologies, first used to provenance gold and diamonds, for food.

From this group, a number of key take home messages and useful advice for establishing a successful business and making it through the valley of death was evident, including:

  1. It’s not just about having a good idea/product
  2. Many of the products/services are disruptive
  3. For all there was/is a clear market opportunity
  4. Luck and timing is key
  5. Always takes longer than planned to develop
  6. Success is always driven by an individual – with an eye on the goal
  7. Always takes more money, patient investors are a valuable asset
  8. cash is king – if you run out your dead
  9. Staffing is key – need to keep experience and invest in them
  10. Focus, focus, focus
  11. Build enduring partnership, whether it be business partner or investor
    •   Don’t want someone who is going to be rude to waiting staff in restaurant – they will be rude to you
    •   Equally, don’t want someone you want to go on holiday with – won’t get stuff done and the creative tension may be missing

These key take-homes are really important and can help get business through the start up valley of death – that point between investor cash investment and market uptake and profit generation

valley of death
The valley of death from Customer Think

However, it also became obvious to me at the conference that there is another, earlier valley of death that affects ideas. This is where ideas and innovations are generated in research institutes but for various reasons don’t make it through into the commercialisation stage. This is also an important issue that needs tackling but that there is much less focus on.

Some of the key problems in this area include

  • Academics not realising a market opportunity
  • Poor support for inventors
  • Poor communication – different languages of scientists/technologists and entrepreneurs
  • complex and perceived poor commercial return for inventors

I spoke more on these topics in interview with the ABC’s Marty McCarthy, presenter of ABC’s country hour.  You can start listening 34m 25s in to the show.

Prof Andy Lowe is a British-Australian scientist and expert on plants and trees, particularly the monitoring, management and utilisation of genetic, biological and ecosystem resources. He has discovered new species, lost forests, championed to eliminate illegally logged timber in global supply chains, served the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime and has been responsible for securing multi-million dollar research funding. He is an experienced and respected executive leader, as well as mid-career mentor. Andy is the inaugural Director of Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide serving as the external face for all significant food industry and government sectors across South Australia, and the world.

0 comments on “The Agtech revolution​ is here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: