(Originally posted on Monsanto.com)
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kyle Welborn, Managing Director at the Yield Lab Opportunity Fund, during The Atlantic's Innovation Game to discuss the innovations driving modern agriculture.
From self-piloting tractors to using electricity to control weeds to converting cover crops into cash crops through gene-editing, the continued evolution of modern agriculture relies on innovation. Today, more and more ground-breaking products and systems are being introduced by startups.
Kyle emphasized the growth of startups in the agricultural industry stating that in 2016 there were more than 1,300 new ventures, many of which focus on agriculture technology, or agtech. Being based in St. Louis, or as Agfunder News called it "the Silicon Valley of Agtech", I can certainly attest to this boom.
The Yield Lab and Monsanto both understand the importance of investing in and cultivating these agtech startups. The Yield Lab specializes in accelerating these startups through financial investment and mentorship with 22 projects in their current portfolio.
One such investment is in a company called RootWave which uses electricity to kill weeds, offering a new and innovative crop protection solution. Considered a "hand weeder," the device includes a portable generator that powers a wand allowing farmers to directly apply electrical current to the weed. Once a weed is touched, electricity travels down the stalk to the roots killing the entire plant.
With the support of the Yield Lab, RootWave is exploring the possibilities of creating an automated system that uses machine learning to determine which plants are weeds and where to apply the treatment.
At Monsanto, we have Monsanto Growth Ventures (MGV) which operates in much the same way. MGV is the focused investment arm of Monsanto investing in developing technology to help farmers be more successful and grow more efficiently. MGV's portfolio currently includes 14 technology providers and the group continues to evaluate new technologies for inclusion each year.
One such company is VitalFields, an Estonia-based farm management software company currently operating in seven European countries. VitalFields is a suite of cloud-based tools and accompanying mobile apps to help farmers plan, manage, and analyze their field activities. Using VitalFields, farmers can create plant disease and growth phase models, track climate patterns, as well as generate simplified tracking and reports to ensure compliance with European Union environmental standards.
MGV saw promise in the developing company and was an early investor in VitalFields. Now, VitalFields has been acquired by the Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, to expand our European footprint and complement our Climate Fieldview™ Platform offerings.
Research yields a lot of data that we need to make sense of and, more increasingly, farmers are using that data combined with technology to make their decisions acre by acre. By uniting our collection of data with innovative agtech, we're helping farmers make these decisions in a more holistic and interconnected way as well as increasing efficiency and reducing the amount of natural resources–water, land, and energy–necessary per unit of production to meet the world's growing food, fuel, and fiber needs.
Watch the recording of the Atlantic Innovation Game for my discussion with Kyle as well as all the great talks about the innovations shaping the world.
Bob Reiter is the Global Vice President of Research & Development Integration Strategy at Monsanto