Envisioning the Farm of the Future with AgLaunch

Pete Nelson discusses the mission of this farmer-centred AgTech ecosystem.

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AgLaunch is bringing change to the Agricultural sector, by putting Farmers at the centre of AgTech. One hundred years ago, there were nearly three times as many farms in the United States as today. Farmers worked tirelessly without automated equipment, and their corn crops yielded less than 30 bushels per acre.

Fast forward to 2022. There are fewer farms, and modern farmers manage more acres supported by technology, including GPS-equipped tractors, aerial imagery, variable-rate planters and sprayers and a host of data collection software options. The average corn yield in the U.S. is boosted to nearly 180 bushels per acre.

In just 100 short years, farmers shifted from horse-drawn equipment to self-driving tractors. AgLaunch’s Executive Director, Pete Nelson, has a vision for even more change into the future.

Pushing boundaries, exposing opportunities

In Pete’s view, while the last century’s agricultural evolution is an inspiration for what’s possible, farmers will need even more innovative solutions to overcome modern production challenges and AgLaunch, a non-profit organisation, will be part of that change.

Pete Nelson, AgLaunch Executive Director

“We’re going to get things to market in a way that might take a little longer, but the likelihood of success is probably a lot higher for the startup and investor.” 

AgLaunch attracts, creates and grows ag-tech startups; facilitates the development of new agriculture and food value-chains; and builds collaborative farmer networks. It does this with a commitment to intentional inclusion. In short, AgLaunch is an innovation platform that hopes to help farmers capitalise on market opportunities and adapt for the future. 

Over the past seven years, the organisation has built a well known accelerator program for AgTech startups. “AgLaunch assists technologists that are creating ag-tech companies by connecting them with farmers very early in our iteration cycle. We create a partnership where farmers help proof of concept, beta test and scale technologies, and the ag-tech startups get a path to market that is more efficient and effective than they can with current offerings,” explains Pete. 

The unique, farmer-centric approach to innovation sets AgLaunch and its partners up for long-term success. He goes on, “We’re going to get things to market in a way that might take a little longer, but the likelihood of success is probably a lot higher for the startup and investor.” 

Farmers call the shots

AgLaunch partners with a network of progressive partners to field test new ideas and build toward adoption. Pete says farmer input is critical to the success of any ag-tech startup. “Our farmers are engaged at every step of identifying new opportunities, screening the technologies and giving feedback. The technology that we choose to invest in, and grow, are because our farmer partners have recommended them. Everything we do is on behalf of the farmer.”

With farmers at the heart of every decision, AgLaunch built a novel infrastructure to support ag innovation while keeping sustainability initiatives top-of-mind. The unique perspective farmers bring to developing new technologies helps ensure that these innovations are practical and scalable to meet operational needs.

He wants to ensure they promote tools that farmers actually need to remain profitable as the agricultural landscape changes. “If you look at things like variable rate technology on equipment, the reality is that there is a small subset of farmers using the technology. As an agriculture community, we have not adopted technology in terms of its full potential. We tend to think about it as we can just introduce a new technology onto a farm, when, in reality, there are some tough fundamental challenges to overcome”.

The farm of the future

Contrary to public opinion or media hype, there is no silver bullet to the challenges facing modern agriculture. Instead, Pete believes a portfolio of evolving tools and technologies will help farmers seize opportunities to operate more sustainably and profitably while accessing new markets. He wants farmers to be able to step away from the commodity treadmill and find new potential solutions.

His goal is to help unlock this – and harness untapped resources to create those solutions – by attracting, starting, growing and supporting new agriculture companies and initiatives to revitalise rural and urban communities.

The future of agriculture is in moving away from the commodity-driven industry of today

So, what will the farm of the future look like? Pete sees it as being very different to the commodity driven industry we see today. We believe agriculture in the future is going to be the opposite of the way we currently view it, as very homogenous. We think that all farms are going to be different. They’re going to have some common characteristics, like being carbon negative, having more opportunity to play in the value chain from an access to market perspective. There’s going to be some similar characteristics. Still, we see the future, enabling unbelievably diverse types of farming output, ranging from indoor agriculture to major crop diversification in what are now traditional row crops.”

AgLaunch is well-positioned to lead farmers into the next era of agriculture. It also marks a refreshing approach putting the farmers themselves at the centre. By supporting forward-looking companies and initiatives that deliver practical solutions it aims to transform agriculture and the food system from its home in the Mississippi Delta and beyond.

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