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Agriculture is an industry steeped in time-honored tradition and decades of American history—but that doesn’t mean that it’s immune from technology’s far-reaching impact. On the contrary, this nearly $3 trillion industry is in the throes of a revitalization not dissimilar to the “early days of the internet,” writes Forbes. “There’s a lot of activity in agriculture, but no clear winners yet—it’s hard to say who might become the Facebook or Amazon of the scene.” As such, cutting-edge agricultural tech startups, apps, and strategies are popping up left and right—especially in America’s heartland, where the farming industry has been an economic heavy-hitter for decades. Considering that two billion more people will live on our planet by 2050, while just 40 percent of the world’s land is available to grow crops, many of these companies aim to fundamentally change the agriculture industry as we know it. Below, find the three agri-tech companies we’re watching this year, plus why we think they’ve got what it takes to make it big.
Kentucky-based AppHarvest is “combining conventional agriculture techniques with today’s technology to grow non-GMO, chemical-free produce” across America, reads their website. They’re doing this within massive greenhouses, like their 60-acre greenhouse located in Morehead, Kentucky, which operates entirely on rainwater from a nearby retention pond. Not only do these greenhouses reduce water usage by up to 90 percent, their central locations in America’s heartland allow AppHarvest to reduce the amount of fuel consumed in transportation by 75 percent. Saved time and resources allow the brand to maintain competitive pricing and position AppHarvest as a viable, long-term solution to the challenges within the agriculture industry. The startup has partnered with schools in the region to support the new AgTech ecosystem, in addition to working with some of the strongest leaders in the industry to bring their vision to life. AppHarvest has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Food & Wine magazine, the New York Post, Forbes, the Financial Times, CNBC, and more.
With the long-term goal of eliminating the use of unsustainable materials in everyday life, mechanical engineer Trey Riddle started Sunstrand in the summer of 2014. Six years later, Riddle and his team of mechanical and chemical engineers, chemists, material scientists, and technicians are considerably closer to reaching their goal; Sunstrand is now the preeminent supplier of natural fibers reinforcements and fillers for the plastic and polymer composite industries. Using bamboo, jute, hemp, kenaf, and flax, Sunstrand creates sustainable materials for cars, houses, electronics, animal products, packaging, paper, clothes, towels, blankets, and more. “Sunstrand envisions a world where the products we use every day are made with high-quality, rapidly renewable, and sustainable materials,” reads the website. “We work closely with farmers to ensure our rapidly renewable resources are cultivated in a way that minimizes environmental impact and optimizes performance and cost.”
Indiana-based The Bee Corp builds infrared imaging software for growers who rent beehives for pollination. Their mission is to develop technology that builds trust with the people who grow our food, all while empowering growers and beekeepers through data and insights on beehive health. Their technology makes it possible for growers to identify the weak points in their orchards and shift their beehive pallets for maximum pollination. When you consider the fact that bees pollinate the agricultural crops that make up one-third of our diet, including fruits and vegetables, founder and CEO Ellie Symes’ mission is an impactful one. She and a small team of three started The Bee Corp while they were still in college at Indiana University. They eventually submitted a business plan to IU’s “Building Entrepreneurs in Science & Technology” competition, where they pitched their business idea to 20 high-profile investors. Symes and her team ultimately won the grand prize investment of $100,000, and The Bee Corp was officially incorporated on February 25, 2016. This past April, Symes received the Rising Star award during TechPoint’s 19th annual Mira Awards gala honoring the best of tech in the state of Indiana, and The Bee Corp relocated to booming Indianapolis.
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