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Five years ago, almost no one knew what agtech was. Today agtech is a phenomenon addressing ag needs through vertical farming to data science to farm drones, and it is hot in investor circles. Rest assured, flyover cities are all over it.
Rather than feeling threatened or turned off by the emergence of technology in their everyday life, the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City is helping farmers to embrace innovation as a way to become more profitable at a time when tariffs have risen and crop prices have declined.
The council's mission is to match investment money with innovations that help the farm economy in flyover country.
One such example is Aker Technologies, whose goal is to improve crop diagnostics through practical tools such as drones and other technological innovations. The company can provide a more accurate and in-depth survey of fields to monitor for disease, insects, and other problems than the standby practice of farmers walking the rows.
"In some cases we tell growers, 'Hey, you are wasting your money. You are using a product you should use less, or not use at all,'" Orlando Saez, the founder of Aker Technologies, told Fox 4 in Kansas City. “In other cases we tell the grower, 'You should use this product. This is really making a difference in your field.'”
Already, the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City has grown to include more than 300 individuals, businesses, and other organizations that have experience in the ag and food industries. Along with connecting investors with innovators, the council provides networking opportunities and a forum to hear from government officials and industry executives on a wide range of topics affecting the way both farmers and tech companies operate.
First came the Cortex innovation community—a dynamic 200-acre innovation hub in St. Louis, home to more than 400 tenants, including heavyweights like Microsoft and Boeing. Now comes 39 North, a 600-acre AgTech cluster, that’s “anchored by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, BRDG Park, the Helix Incubator, Bayer Crop Science, and the Yield Lab.”
The cluster seems like a perfect fit for the region. According to the 39 North website, 50% of US agriculture is produced within a 500-mile radius of St. Louis; the region boasts 100 bioscience companies and 1,000 plant science PhDs; and $1.3 billion in bioscience VC is under local management.
A Brookings Institution report said the St. Louis initiative is “distinguished by the fact that the region took a broad approach from the very beginning, with parallel strategies focused on every major area of need: capital, talent, facilities, and networks.”