8 Canadian Agtech Startups Helping Farmers Grow
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Canada’s 37 million people (that’s less than the state of California at 40 million) reside in the second biggest country in the world by landmass (Russia is the biggest) which means there’s a lot of room to grow things. Holding the title of the 5th largest agricultural exporter in the world overall, Canada is the world’s largest exporter of oats and canola oil and the world’s largest producer and exporter of lentils and peas. It only makes sense that Canada ought to be birthing some innovative agriculture technology (agtech) startups – and indeed they are. From our neighbors in the north who gifted us with musical talents like Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire, here are eight Canadian agtech startups.
My Farm Manager
Founded in 2011, Alberta company Decisive Farming has taken in approximately $6.7 million in funding so far to develop its patented My Farm Manager (MFM) software which their CEO describes as an operating system that includes “everything from how to produce a crop more efficiently, or how to improve conditions on the farm and also how to protect margins and ultimately market the crop.” That’s according to an article by Alberta Venture last month that talks about how Decisive Farming services about 1,500 clients across Canada with an average farm size of 4,000 acres – and they’ve now expanded into the U.S. as well.
Decisive Farming offers three main farm functions; Farm Management to boost performance, Precision Agronomy to increase yield, and Crop Marketing to improve revenue. So far, the company has more than five million acres in its system representing 40 different crop types across North America.
Natural Pest Controls
Founded in 2010, British Columbia company Terramera has taken in $79.3 million in funding so far to become the front-runner in the plant intelligence industry with some audacious goals laid out – reduce synthetic chemical pesticides by 80% and increase crop yields by 20% – globally. (A $45 million round was just announced today.) The company’s Actigate™ Targeted Performance technology enables plant-based organic actives to outperform synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers for the first time.
Earlier this year, the company acquired Stem Shock, a technology used to develop natural RNA-based precision herbicides targeting harmful weed species. It’s a precision farming solution that can program active ingredients to carefully target and eliminate particular weeds without destroying the neighboring crops or the environment. Sounds similar to what Brazilian startup PROMIP is working on.
Water is the New Gold
Founded in 2014, British Columbia company Skaha Remote Sensing has taken in an undisclosed amount in funding to develop Smart Drop, a platform that maps out the soil moisture conditions for crop fields and even vineyards. Historically, farmers have just gone with gut instinct for determining how much water to apply to their crops or used soil probes which aren’t overly accurate since most fields are pretty darn big. Skaha uses microwave sensors that are mounted on irrigation systems in order to determine the optimal amount of water to apply to fields which reduces water and energy consumption.
Aside from applications in agriculture, the Smart Drop sensor technology can also be utilized in the oil and gas industry which Canada has plenty of.
VCs take notice. An article in New Ventures BC last year talked about how a key challenge for the company is “working to develop the technology without any significant seed funding available,” and that they’re “looking to secure investment.” A case study showing a farmer’s ROI for the sensor technology might help move things along a bit.
Turning Poo Into Gold
Our next company is less of a startup and more of an established private company, but that doesn’t detract from the usefulness of their solutions. Founded in 2008, Alberta company Livestock Water Recycling is the global leader in manure treatment technology which can be applied to pigs, chickens, and cows. The system allows farmers to eliminate the necessity for lagoon storage of manure by processing it into useful components like fertilizer and fresh water using mechanical and chemical treatments.
Benefits include the ability to expand your herd without acquiring new land, a reduction in the number of trucks carting manure about on local roads, conserving water that would be otherwise lost to evaporation, and our favorite – “improved neighbor relations.”
Founded in 2014, Ontario company FarmLead has taken in $7.3 million in funding so far to develop an online marketplace for grains which allows credit-approved buyers and qualified farmers to transact directly with one another and even negotiate prices. TechCrunch calls it “an eBay for grains,” and one of the investors backing the venture is Monsanto (now part of Bayer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world).
As a seller, all you need to do is to post the grains you’re selling in the marketplace. As a buyer, you bid on the grains. FarmLead takes a cut on all successful transactions. FarmLead’s platform also conducts market analysis, offers grain testing services, and recommends prices. The goal is to offer an end-to-end service throughout the entire grain value chain.
Smart Plant Systems
Earlier this year, we talked about eleven vertical farming startups that had collectively raised more than $900 million. Well, add one more to that list. Founded in 2011, Nova Scotia company TruLeaf has taken in $10.7 million in funding so far to develop their own vertical farming solution – The Smart Plant System – a platform that operates efficiently by using reclaimed rainwater and LED lights. As one would expect, these farms are producing loads of data that TruLeaf is then analyzing using machine learning algorithms in order to optimize things like water usage and yields.
Vertical farming is said to be 30 times more productive when compared to traditional agriculture methods while utilizing as much as 95% less water. Controlled grow rooms also mean you don’t need to use pesticides. Most importantly, this system has dramatically reduced the growth cycle period of plants. Plants nurtured outdoors usually take anywhere from 35 to 40 days to grow. With TruLeaf’s system, the cycle is shortened by almost half, and only requires 16 to 18 days.
Moo-ving On Up
Nearly one million head of dairy cows are roaming the plains of Canada, and our next startup wants to optimize their udders using machine learning. Founded in 2016, New Brunswick company SomaDetect has taken in $2.5 million in funding so far to develop an in-line sensor that can analyze milk quality without the use of chemicals or other consumables. The system uses machine learning algorithms to measure critical indicators like fat, somatic cell counts, protein, and progesterone. With this technology, dairy farmers can quickly and accurately determine the quality of their herd’s milk as well as monitor the health of every cow.
SomaDetect’s technology relies on two things working hand in hand: their sensor technology and their computer vision and deep learning algorithms. The sensor is at the core of the system. It involves light scattering technology that enables the company to conduct a quick, on-site evaluation of the major compounds found in raw milk. Since no chemicals are used, the milk remains unaffected by the process and can be safely returned to the milking line after the evaluation. This cuts down the operational expenses and gets rid of the use of chemicals in dairy barns. If this gets your blood flowing, be sure to check out more dairy tech in our article on 9 New Technologies for Dairy Farming and Dairy Cows.
Cutting the Mustard
Cannabis isn’t the only new crop being grown in Canada these days. Founded in 2001, British Columbia company Agrisoma Biosciences has taken in $27.1 million in funding so far to manufacture Carinata, a member of the mustard family with growing traits similar to canola. (Canada is the world’s second-largest mustard producer.) The crops produce Carinata seeds which are used to produce biofuel that is then supplied to the aviation industry.
Carinata is the first-ever non-food crop discovered that can produce oil which is used as feedstock for biofuel production. “Biofuels are currently mandated in 62 countries around the world, and agriculture is delivering the feedstock to make those biofuels,” says the company. If you’re worried that we may start running out of food because all our farmland is being used to generate biofuels, don’t be. Turns out that Carinata is also a government-approved animal feed that “vastly exceeds protein content in similar crops.” In September of last year, Agrisoma’s second international commercial flight powered by biojet fuel made from Carinata seed oil took place. Reading the fine print, the flight actually used just 30% biofuel, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Agriculture is becoming increasingly complex as farmers look for ways to make the occupation more profitable. The world’s largest agriculture export nations are prime incubation spots for agtech innovation to grow and flourish as we saw in our recent article on Brazilian agtech firms. An expected increase in longevity means more mouths to feed, not to mention the growth in people as a result of humans copulating, eh. Between 2017 and 2050, the populations of 26 African countries are projected to expand to at least double their current size which means even more food will be imported to the continent going forward. Large agricultural exporters like Canada and Brazil who can increase yield using technology stand to benefit as a result.