Jan. 3, 2018
It was an exciting year in farm technology involving a few high profile venture capital exits and some of the largest deals on record.
In fact, funding records for this category and the subcategories within were broken more than once during the course of the year.
1. Indigo Agriculture - $203 million - Series D
Just this month Indigo Agriculture, the Boston-based microbial crop technology startup, closed its Series D funding round on $203 million, the largest fundraising effort by a farm tech company on record. Indigo's product portfolio includes microbial seed coatings for corn, soy, wheat, and cotton. These coatings help crops to withstand environmental stressors such as drought, high temperatures, salty soils or low nitrogen and bolster resistance to disease and pests. The company also claims its products produce higher quality crops, such as increasing the protein content of wheat. Indigo does not sell its microbial coated seed product to farmers like most ag input suppliers; instead, the company enters into contracts with farmers, providing them with the seed at the start of the season and then purchasing their harvest for a guaranteed, premium price.
Investors: Investment Corporation of Dubai, Flagship Pioneering, Alaska Permanent Fund, Baillie Gifford, Activant Capital.
2. Plenty - $200 million - Series A
Indoor vertical farming company Plenty raised $200 million in a Series B round of funding announced in July (at the time the largest farm tech investment though the record did not last the year.) Plenty uses a vertical growing plane to grow leafy greens in a 52,000 square foot South San Francisco facility. The Series B - which brought total funding for the startup to $226 million - is being out to use on new farms and new hires. In November, the company announced its next farm will be in Kent, WA. The 100,000 sq. ft. indoor vertical farm will open in mid-2018 and will represent Plenty's first "full-scale" farm. The company is also looking to employ roughly 50 new employees. Fellow vertical farming entrepreneur AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg said at the time: "This is a monster raise, and ultimately competition can be good for the industry to drive further advancement."
Investors: SoftBank Vision Fund, Affiliates of Louis M. Bacon, the founder of Moore Capital Management, Innovation Endeavors, Bezos Expeditions, DCM, Data Collective, and Finistere Ventures.
3. Maihuolang - $150 million - Series A
In what seemed like an outlier for agribusiness marketplaces at the time, China's Maihoulang raised a $150 million Series A in March of 2017. In light of Farmers Business Network's most recent round (up next on this list), it is slightly less remarkable now that the year is coming to a close. Maihoulang launched 51mhl.com in 2014, as a marketplace for farm supplies, specialty foods, electric motorbikes, and household appliances covering 23 provinces in China with 218 county offices and 28,500 village services stations, according to Deal Street Asia. Competition is coming from a partnership between Alibaba Group Holding and China's National Development and Reform Commission, which are starting hundreds of pilot programmes in rural villages and towns in three years.
Investors: Shenzhen New Industry Venture Capital, Weiji Investment, and Qianhai Great Wall Fund.
4. Farmers Business Network - $110 million - Series D
Farmers Business Network (FBN), a farmer-to-farmer digital network offering data insights, input procurement, and crop marketing services, raised $110 million in Series D funding in November. "We've built a phenomenally high-growth business with membership doubling year-on-year to nearly 5,000 farms around the US across 16 million acres, taking on another million acres each month," Charles Baron, cofounder and VP of product, told AgFunderNews. The company has grown in other ways too: its input procurement business has expanded from selling 170 products initially to over 1,200, it launched a crop marketing business earlier this year, it is expanding into Canada, and its team is now 200-strong, with plans to increase by another 100 in the next 12-18 months.
Investors: T. Rowe Price, Temasek, Acre Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, GV (Google Ventures) and DBL Partners.
5. Uptake - $117 million - Series D
Uptake, a data analytics startup that uses sensor data to optimize machinery including farming equipment, raised a $117 million Series D round announced this month. This brings Uptake's total fundraising to $264 million, $130 million of which was raised in two rounds earlier this year, and it is now valued at $2.3 billion. Uptake is cash flow positive, according to TechCrunch, but said in a statement that the new funds will allow it to speed up its growth.
The company was founded by two cofounders of flash deal site Groupon on the idea that most commercial equipment comes outfitted with some sensors, but little use has been made of the data they produce. Using these sensors, plus additional sensors from outside partners in some cases, Uptake tracks the performance and usage of combines, carts, trucks, and semis, to name a few, in order to gauge optimal use and also machine performance. The software is able to make recommendations to optimize machinery expenses by minimizing downtime among other things.
Investors: Baillie Gifford, GreatPoint Ventures, and Revolution Growth.
6. Unnamed Bayer + Ginkgo Bioworks Ag Biotech Company - $100 million
German agribusiness Bayer CropScience and Ginkgo Bioworks, a startup genetically engineering microbes for the flavor, fragrance, and food industries, have partnered with hedge fund Viking Global Investors to invest $100 million in a new, as yet unnamed agtech startup, announced in September.
The new company will focus on manufacturing microbial products to help with nitrogen fixation and minimizing agriculture's environmental impact by decreasing the amount of chemical fertilizers farmers apply to crops. The new company will be co-located at Bayer's biologicals R&D facility in West Sacramento, which was created through the 2012 acquisition of AgraQuest, and at Ginkgo's Boston facility.
AgFunderNews sources say that this mysterious venture will be getting a name and a CEO early in the year.
7. Produce Pay - $70 million - Series A + Debt
Produce Pay, an online platform that connects farmers directly with distributors and pays them for their produce the day after it's shipped through a lending platform. CoVenture, a software-focused VC from New York City, arranged a $70 million debt facility for the startup alongside leading its $7 million Series A. Farmers are often left waiting for produce to sell before they're paid, leaving them in a risky financial position post-harvest. Produce Pay is also launching a trading platform to connect vetted growers and distributors all over the world. Produce pay is part of a growing group of agtech startups branching out into fintech to mitigate some of the financial challenges on farms today.
Investors: CoVenture, Menlo Ventures, Arena Ventures, Red Bear Angels and Social Leverage.
8. 3D Robotics - $53 million - Series D
Back in April, drone startup 3D Robotics (3DR) raised a $53 million Series D round, which included the conversion of some existing debt to equity, though it did not release details. According to Tech Crunch, 3DR has faced a cavalcade of competition in recent years from the likes of dominant Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, management software platform Drone Deploy, and more. 3DR stopped selling consumer drones in 2015 and transitioned to selling software product Site Scan as a service. Site Scan helps users manage flight plans, drone cameras and data transfer to the cloud. Though the company has historically included agriculture as an industry of focus, the company's website does not currently list it as such. We have reached out to 3DR to find out more.
Investors: Atlantic Bridge, Autodesk Forge Fund, True Ventures, Foundry Group, Mayfield and other undisclosed investors.
9. Protix Biosystems - $50 million
Protix, a Netherlands-based company, raised €45 million ($50.5 million) in equity and debt funding to expand its insect farming business in June. This is the largest investment in the nascent insect farming industry to-date, according to Protix and its investors. Protix farms insects predominantly for animal and aquaculture feed, with feed products in over 12 countries, ranging from pig and poultry to pet food specialties.
Insects are increasingly seen as a viable and low-impact protein alternative, because they can be reared on waste and are much more resource efficient versus other sources of protein and feed such as soy, corn, forage fish and meat. The company acquired Fair Insects, a consortium of breeders growing mealworm, crickets, and locusts. According to Protix, the acquisition will allow the company to serve a wider spectrum of customers from B2B to food markets with protein-rich foods, meal replacements, and health beverages in September.
Investors: Rabobank, Aqua-Spark, Brabant Development Agency (BOM) and other private investors.
10. Orbital Insight - $50 million - Series C
Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics startup, that generates macro-level analytics for businesses using satellite imagery and other data raised a $50 million Series C round in March. The company addresses multiple industries, including financial services (i.e. hedge funds), commodities, and agriculture. One of the offerings is tracking of macro-level production flows. AgFunderNews has reason to believe that a new suite of products for agriculture is on the way in 2018.