Growing with Tech: the Inaugural JNF Agritech Mission to Israel
The problems facing modern agriculture are difficult and complex, and there are many unanswered questions about how this industry will evolve. How do we feed a growing planet? Can we farm sustainably in a changing climate? With a projected global population of 9.6 billion people by the year 2050 and an increasing incidence of drought and extreme weather in some of the world’s agricultural centres, these challenges seem daunting – almost insurmountable.
Thankfully there are people working to solve these problems as we speak. Countless farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and financiers are combining the time-tested methods of traditional farming with the very heights of modern technology to produce some truly incredible results. ‘Agritech’ – the marriage of agriculture and technology – is poised to change the way we grow our food in the 21st century.
Tomorrow I will be joining a group of young professionals led by Jonathan Schwartz and Matt Zerker on the inaugural JNF Agritech Mission to Israel. During our ten days of travelling through the ‘Start-Up Nation’, we will be attending conferences, meeting business leaders, and touring research & development facilities at the forefront of the agritech revolution.
We begin the trip at the Trendlines Agrivest Summit at the Weizmann Institute of Science. This annual summit highlights the potential for investment in the rapidly expanding world of agricultural technology. To follow this up, our group will attend the 2015 Agritech Conference in Tel Aviv, where professionals from every corner of the globe come together on a yearly basis to make connections and keep up with the state of the industry. From here our travels will take us all across the country: from the southern locales of Be’er Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Desert – to the center of the country, and the venerable city of Jerusalem – then North to Kibbutz Ginosar on the shores of the Sea of Galilee – and finally a return to Tel Aviv.
But what exactly are these agritech initiatives that we will encounter? How can they increase the quality, quantity, efficiency, and security of our food supply? To answer that, we must get acquainted with the types of organizations that we will meet:
Big Data, Analytics, and Precision Farming
There is a myriad of data flying around a farm at any given time, and any number of variables can be measured – including weather patterns, sunlight levels, precipitation, soil moisture, etc. But can we take all of this raw data and use it to make better farming decisions? Several companies have been developing software platforms to do just that, significantly reducing resource use by optimizing inputs such as irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide use.
Genomics, Advanced Breeding, Chemistry, and Bio Farming
Can we analyze and modify the genetic codes of our food crops in order to make them hardier, more disease resistant, more nutritious, or higher yielding? Can we achieve these same goals without genetic modification? Can we grow only the most nutritious cells of a plant, without wasting resources on the extraneous parts? Can we alter the flavour profiles of foods to make their production more sustainable? The answer to all of these questions, apparently, is yes.
Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Incubators
How can an entrepreneur in the agritech space take their idea from conception through to reality? What help is available in the form of financing and expertise? There are multitudes of agriculture-specific venture capital funds, private equity groups, incubators, and accelerators in Israel that are ready to support the next big idea.
Education, Research & Development, and Not-For-Profits
Working hand-in-hand with the agritech business world are the researchers, educators, and volunteers who strive to make the world a better place through innovative farming techniques and the spread of knowledge. Can we grow food sustainably in the middle of a desert? Can we provide 21st century skills and methods to farmers in the developing world? These questions and many others are being answered by Universities, R&D facilities, and non-profit organizations throughout Israel.
Notable Groups: The Jewish National Fund, The Volcani Institute, Arava International Centre for Agricultural Training, Ramat HaNadiv Gardens, Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, BIRD Foundation, Central Arava R&D Station, Yair R&D station
Even before embarking on this trip, it is clear to me that agricultural technology will be crucial to solving the world’s food supply challenges over the coming decades. The State of Israel is on the forefront of this agritech revolution and I am delighted to have this opportunity to get up-close and personal with such trailblazing innovators over the next ten days.
More to come.