The role of Innovation in achieving Sustainability

AgriTech is increasingly being presented as a means to solving the sustainability challenge in food and agriculture. But what do we mean by sustainability and is this future a near-reality or a distant ambition?

This blog won’t try to comprehensively answer the ‘what’, but at Farm491 we see sustainability as improving food security, improving the environment and improving the farmer economics. The businesses that will have long term success are likely to be those that develop technologies and most importantly business models that mutually benefit all three of these challenges.

So how far off this reality are we? Through our members we see solutions falling across a number of categories, and differing time-to-market:

  1. Renewable energy: Farmer diversification by leveraging waste-to-value opportunities such as AD are increasingly being adopted by farmers.
  2. Robotics: Enabling precision agriculture either through the direct application (e.g. weeding and spraying) or as a platform for data collection (drones) –this is considered a critical part of the digital farm dream. The challenge is cost and enabling farmers to gain access while working within small margins. Who takes the initial financial risk and how the returns are shared through the supply chain will come from business model innovations and be a defining part of which companies succeed or fail. The extent to which this will change the future of rural jobs is still to be understood, but models that enable collaboration while reducing underlying costs are likely to be long term.
  3. Insights: Creating insights both at the farm and throughout the supply chain, using new sources of data (e.g. low-cost sensors) or novel combinations of existing datasets are an emerging industry. The promise of increasing yields, while reducing emissions (and other waste), and reducing other inputs such as water and fertiliser, is a compelling vision. The challenge is connecting the solution to the farmer – the strongest business models will be those that are extractive, and are easily actionable.
  4. Food system disruption: completely re-thinking where food comes from could be one of the biggest impacts for sustainability. Mainly still ideas, Farm491 is seeing growing excitement in novel approaches including vertical farming and insect farming.

Technology innovation is one part of the solution –the right funding structures to support each of these innovations, alongside policy innovations to enable rapid adoption such as through subsidies and certifications to help farmers increase profits will also be critical.

To achieve this, the business model needs to work for all stakeholders: farmers, consumers and funding partners. At Farm491, through our AgriTech focused bootcamps and membership we help entrepreneurs turn their technology innovation into viable, scalable businesses that are supportive of the farming community and will help lead to a sustainable and equitable food system.

RAU Farm491 are hosting an AgriTech Season this spring, which through a collection of showcases and round-table discussions will be tackling the role of AgriTech in the farming community. A closed workshop on sustainability will be hosted at Farm491Alliston Centre on 19thMarch.

If  you are interested in following the outcomes of this discussion or more general information about the AgriTech Season, please subscribe to our newsletter.