Saving the planet, one innovation at a time
According to the recent The Great Climate Opportunity report, released by Space Capital and Silicon Valley Bank, $ 970 billion in business assets are at risk due to climate change over the next five years. In 2021, the report estimates that more than $ 50 billion will be invested in climate technology through equity financing. Now is no better time to bring these issues to the fore, and investments in sustainable agriculture, food and other technologies designed to save the planet, protect the environment and enhance food security are booming. .
The Smart Agro R&D partnership seeks to invest exclusively in sustainable Israeli startups and aims to solve these problems with innovative and green solutions. âWe’re looking to solve big problems with technology,â said CEO Dganit Vered.
Looking at the recent impact of climate change which has generated a devastating effect on our planet, and the ability to grow plants on Earth, many problems have arisen. “Soil and land availability are declining, and soil depletion remains a major concern,” she said. During soil depletion, there is a sharp decline in the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil, some of which can lead to loss of organic matter, erosion, unfavorable changes in salinity, acidity or alkalinity, negative effects of toxic chemicals or pollutants, or those caused by flooding. Other alarming issues are carbon dioxide emissions and meat production, which require high feed yields to feed cows. âRecent droughts, such as in California and other places in the US Midwest, have negatively impacted water availability and reduced crop yields,â she added.
Further south, parts of South America have also experienced drought, which has negatively impacted the yield of sugar cane crops, causing prices to rise. Storms such as Hurricane Irma in 2017 severely damaged Florida orange groves, causing the price of orange juice to skyrocket, requiring federal assistance. âThe hurricane tore the oranges from the trees and left us wondering how we could better protect our food sources from natural disasters. ”
Israeli technologies to the rescue
The State of Israel, she explained, is somewhat of an expert when it comes to dealing with the global process of desertification, water shortages and even the potential extinction of bees. Having to cultivate sustainable crops in an often arid and arid environment has led several Israeli startups to design innovative approaches to keep plants healthy and crop yields abundant. The partnership has invested in three of these companies: Arugga AI Farming, BetterSeeds and SupPlant.
Arugga develops robotic solutions to process and monitor individual plants in greenhouses. Since its founding in 2017, the company has focused its early product developments on robotic pollination to replace manual methods and was recently deployed to pollinate Australian tomato plants after a partnership with the Costa Group.
âIn Israel alone there are five companies that deal with robotic pollination, and in the world there are maybe five more. Few startups have taken care of this area, âshe added.
Some startups only focus on extracting pollen from plants, processing them, and pollinating plants like Bumblebee AI, which focuses on avocado, almond and kiwi plants. There is Beehero, which inserts IoT devices into the hives, constantly monitoring changes in the hive, for example if the hive is attacked by parasites, the queen dies, or if there is a change in behavior or disease. humidity, then alerts beekeepers who can react immediately to crises. Yet another is Beewise Technologies, whose solar-powered imitation beehive, called BeeHome, is equipped with a robot that takes care of bees in real time.
âThese are all more sophisticated solutions for bees that can protect them from extinction. This is crucial because they pollinate most of our food sources, âsaid Vered.
The second company in the partnership’s portfolio, BetterSeeds, uses CRISPR genetic modification to create genetically modified seeds and produce better plants.
While such products are marked as genetically modified in Europe and Israel, North America, they are not and are permitted, she noted. The company edits the genomes of the plant, chooses certain traits that allow plants to survive better or are easier to mass produce. In cocoa factories, the method has been used to rationalize and increase production. In cannabis plants – which were untested due to legal regulations – BetterSeed attempted to create more stable strains by genetically modifying homogeneous seeds so that they could better control yields and growing conditions.
âWhen you grow certain crops, like tomatoes, you want repeatability, which means no matter how many times you plant a seed, you get the exact same plant. BetterSeed wants to use this method to improve cannabis strains, âshe said.
The third company, SupPlant, focuses on precision irrigation in the field of precision agriculture, focused on specific crop management and uses software and hardware to observe crops, paying individualized attention to the intricacies. . SupPlant uses sensors that it attaches to the ground, leaves or trunk, and accurately predicts how much water the plant needs after plugging in a five-day weather forecast. âIt gives farmers predictions of exactly what these plants need for the next few days, such as when to water, how much and when to stop watering. He doesn’t just aim to produce better crop yields, but wants to be more in tune with the plants and optimize their robustness so that their products are of better quality, âshe said.
Over the years, the startup has amassed an impressive collection of data from its sensors and is now able to create an algorithm without sensors. This attempt is worthwhile in places like Africa and India, where getting the right amount of sensors to cover vast land resources can be time consuming and expensive.
âIn business, companies are looking to solve the big problems and generate substantial income,â she said. âWe would like to have a major impact that will improve the future of our planet, because who knows what will happen down the line. People will pay for these solutions, due to water shortages and other environmental crises – like bee extinction, soil degradation or low yields of plants or crops, âshe said. Moreover, these problems are universal and scientists want to act now, as sustaining food production as conditions worsen could prove to be more complex. âThese things are absolutely necessary for the continuation of life on Earth,â she added.