7 Brazilian Agriculture Technology Startups
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In 2018, Brazil had over 230 million cows chewing their cuds – about 22% of the 1.02 billion cows living on this planet – and consequently was the world’s largest exporter of beef that year. They’re not just a world leader in the production of beef, but also coffee (around 37% of global total), sugar (almost 20% of the global total), and orange juice (more than 50% of the global total). With the country’s revenues from agriculture reaching $84.6 billion, it makes sense that there would be some agriculture technology (agtech) startups cropping up in the Land of the Holy Cross.
The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics has noted the efforts this South American country has been making to advance the use of technology in farming. For example, tractor use in the country has grown by almost 50% in the past decade while crop irrigation use has increased by 52%. The agricultural sector is now working hand-in-hand with the tech world to capture big data and turn it into insights for “precision farming,” something we talked about in our article on 6 IoT in Agriculture Solutions from AgTech Startups. Today, we’re going to look at seven Brazilian agtech startups that are making smart farmers even smarter.
Founded in 2006, Santa Catarina company PROMIP has taken in $6.2 million in funding so far to develop “bio-insecticides” for long-term pest prevention that are more friendly to the environment than synthetic insecticides. It’s not just about saving the environment. Using biological solutions alongside chemicals can reduce a farm’s production costs by 15% given all the safety and regulatory issues associated with using chemicals.
PROMIP’s Brazilian biofactory handles the large-scale manufacture and distribution of bio-insecticides including insects like parasite wasps, stingless bees, and predatory mites that serve to displace the use of agrochemicals and GMO seeds. More creative solutions include parasitoids that protect large and minor crops like soybean, cotton, tomato, and sugarcane. (Not unlike the modern-day millennial, the parasitoid is an organism that lives in close association with its host and at the host’s expense, and which sooner or later kills it.) PROMIP also provides other research and development services for the agriculture industry such as pesticide resistance control and chemical residue evaluation.
Brazil’s agricultural barter and debt market is valued at $50 billion annually and has historically been a source of frustration among farmers. Founded in 2016, Sao Paulo fintech startup Bart Digital has taken in $692,000 in funding so far to use blockchain technology to solve many of these pain points. Bart Digital provides all stakeholders in agriculture finance with a transparent and agile platform that has already processed over $168 million dollars’ worth of transactions. Deal approval can be expedited by putting all the needs of the parties involved into a centralized database and then streamlining the process. For all our Portuguese readers:
Bart Digital’s solution grants platform participants access to a library of necessary agricultural credit-granting documents along with features like automated document generation, digital signatures, and automatic document analysis. The entire ecosystem of participants – suppliers, distributors, investors, banks, the court system, distributors, lenders, etc. – all benefit from increased transparency and information flow. Bart Digital reminds us of another company using blockchain for an agricultural finance solution – HARA in Indonesia.
Founded in 2014, Piracicaba-SP startup InCeres has taken in $2.6 million in funding so far to develop a cloud-based solution for soil fertility. The company used more than 12.3 million acres (five million hectares) of soil for their primary data set which they now use to provide insights for the entire fertilizer supply chain. Farmers can enjoy the benefits of precision farming to cut costs and become more competitive. (In emerging market farming, oftentimes farmers will use the spray-and-pray approach – sometimes even with the wrong fertilizer – and this has a detrimental effect on crop yields.) Here’s what Google’s translation algorithms think the value proposition is:
InCeres can provide information on the nutritional variability of the soil to identify the correct applications of fertilizer for every grid in a farmer’s field which makes things more efficient and precise. Since it’s sitting up there in the cloud, the data can easily be accessed anywhere which is a major advantage when you’re out standing in your field. The InCeres solution is already being used across 14.8 million acres of farmland (six million hectares) with one-third of that coming online just last year.
Founded in 2007, Sao Paulo startup Solinftec has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding so far to develop “Alice,” a first of its kind artificial intelligence assistant that integrates and processes data from machinery, people, a network of climate stations, and other big data inputs. It’s like Alexa for farmers except nobody’s listening when you decide to have an impromptu romp in the barn. The initial product was built around the needs of farmers in the sugarcane industry, and now they’re offering the same for soy, corn, and cotton farmers. To use “Alice,” you need to place smart boxes on your agricultural equipment and deploy some sensors in the fields. The end result is a farm sim that’s a digital twin of your real farm.
Solinftec provides clients with a certifiable record of all harvest data including a traceability function that covers everything from harvesting on the farm to the delivery trucks driving up to the mills, all without the need for any human input.
Solinftec’s technology is currently used on more than 16 million acres of farmland (6.47 million hectares), monitoring 20,000 pieces of equipment and managing 100,000 active users daily. The company claims to dominate 65% of the sugarcane market in Brazil and its clients include international sugarcane grower Raizen which has the biggest telemetry system in the world. Solinftec is also expanding around the globe with international clients and a planned investment of $50.6 million to build their U.S. headquarters near Purdue University. You see marketing folks? Just because you pick a company name that sounds like something Mike Tyson would say, it doesn’t mean your company is doomed to fail. It’s all about execution.
Update 02/05/2020: Solinftec has raised $40 million in Series B funding to further develop its artificial intelligence (AI) platform and expand operations. This brings the company’s total funding to $60 million to date.
Founded in 2014, Rio Grande do Sul startup Aegro doesn’t have a website that responds well to Google Translate so we’ll use a technique we learned in business school – “leverage” someone else’s hard work, acknowledge their existence with a link, and enjoy 95% of the benefits. An excellent piece by Diginomica in 2016 talks about how Aegro set out to develop an easy-to-use farm management app that assists farmers with “productivity, financial control, pest control, and commercial control” on their farms.
From the dashboard, the crop control panel provides an overview of areas, estimated productivity, and budgeted expenses vs. actual costs. It can even offer data on the break-even point for crops. About one year ago exactly, an article by LAVCA talks about how they had taken in around $1.8 million in funding so far and operated in an area of 1.28 million acres (520,000 hectares) – about 355 accounts. At that time, they were said to be adding about 60 new accounts a month. Today, they’re managing over 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares) of farmland – nearly doubling their footprint in a single year.
Founded in 2012, Santa Catarina startup Horus Aeronaves has taken in $3 million in funding so far to develop the first-ever drone-as-a-service offering in Latin America. The carbon fiber drones use multispectral cameras to produce high-resolution field imagery that can then be deconstructed to provide valuable insights to farmers such as plant counting, crop health analysis, and maps that show where you might need to put a bit more fertilizer.
Additional applications that can take advantage of the startup’s drone imaging capabilities include construction management, environmental monitoring, and mining.
Founded in 2010, Minas Gerais startup AIMIRIM has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding so far to develop a system that uses machine learning to help with the industrial aspects of ethanol production. The company provides assistance on engineering projects, particularly those that involve Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which is the study of how fluid flows and which allows you to produce cool-looking charts like this one.
In 2018, AIMIRIM established a partnership with Raizen – the single largest producer of cane sugar and ethanol – to utilize artificial intelligence for “automation in burning sugarcane bagasse used to generate energy.” (Bagasse is the dry pulpy residue left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane.) Says an article by Forbes which we leveraged, “the technology, currently in use in two Raízen plants, adjusts combustion rates, resulting in an approximate reduction of 30 percent in bagasse amounts in order to generate the same calorific value.” In other words, you can generate more energy with less sugarcane and your ESG score goes up a few notches. But only if you tweet about it.
We always try not to impose our ethnocentric expectations on others, but we couldn’t help wishing all these great companies would publish their sites in the Queen’s English. The reality is, most lean startups around the globe are too busy kicking ass and taking names to care much about localizing their websites. What we were able to decipher from these seven websites is that there are some real agtech success stories coming from one of the top five biggest agricultural exporters in the world.