In the numerous pitches that I have sat through, I have often heard VC’s draw a distinction between “Must Have” solutions and “Nice to Have” solutions. “Must Have” solutions address real world problems; Nice-To-Have solutions might make life easier, but nobody will miss them.
AgTech addresses “Must Have” problems. The Earth’s population is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, food production must increase by 60% to feed that growing population and, since they aren’t making any more land, ninety percent of the growth in crop production is expected to come from higher yields on existing farm land. Farmers must become more efficient and they will only do so through new technology.
The agriculture industry is already highly dependent on technology and is not slow to adapt to improve yields. “Precision agriculture,” for example, currently helps farmers determine where and what to plant on their land with a level of accuracy that was not possible ten years ago. The next step is to move from precision agriculture to predictive agriculture and “Big Data” will be the main driver of this change.
Precision agriculture allows monitoring and mapping of yields, and accesses live soil information through built-in sensors in vehicles. GPS equipped vehicles now track land and auto-guidance technology can steer a vehicle enhancing accuracy and reducing operator fatigue. Crops planted with this technology can later be harvested with optimal precision.
Yield mapping is capable of monitoring crop yield and soil moisture content. When combined with GPS technology, seed planting can take advantage of the most appropriate soil conditions and minimize waste. Most of the data generated can be viewed on mobile phone applications, allowing farmers to make quick decisions on the go.
With the precison tools that are currently available and being developed, farmers can reduce waste and squeeze more production out of the same acreage.
The technologies used in precision agriculture not only increase efficiencies, they also allow the producer to plan on a larger scale. For example, a seed, fertilizer, or planting technique that works on one patch of land may not work on another. Historically, farmers have learned what works through experience and personal knowledge. Precision agriculture technology reduces the need for this personal knowledge by providing satellite guidance, monitoring and mapping yields, and giving access to live soil information through vehicle sensors.
Because precision agriculture necessarily involves collecting vast amounts of data, companies will combine this data and use it to predict trends. For example, Monsanto Company captured the headlines in 2013 with its $930 million acquisition of Climate Corp, a company founded by early Google employees who created a service whereby people can state what type of weather they want to insure against and receive a quote within seconds. Climate Corp initially offered services to all business that depended on the weather, but soon realized that agriculture was by far the biggest and focused its activities on that sector.
Big Data has the potential to predict farming needs on a mass scale. However, farmers must overcome a number of legal and regulatory challenges. While many farmers will benefit from access to shared information, those that currently have a competitive edge over the competition may want to keep that information in-house for as long as possible.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drone technology (when it becomes legal) will also complement the drive towards Big Data by allowing farmers to collect data on their farms without needing to drive a vehicle over the land. Drones allow for mass data collection, planting seeds, and even delivering spare parts to a tractor broken down in the field. Drones could be used to survey land and cut down on time spent travelling to the far corners of a farm only to find that the conditions are not suitable for work. Drones could revolutionize farming by allowing surgical use of pesticides, fertilizer, and water, while improving environmental efficiency in the process.
In California alone, agriculture is a $46 billion per year industry. In California, the average customer of Agetch products (i.e. the farmer) is a $6 million a year business. And most of the farms in this state are “wired” with internet and mobile access. Despite those metrics, in 2012, agriculture technology companies raised just over $100 million of venture capital funding from around 40 deals. That’s tiny in the scheme of things. The area is growing, however, as AgFunder News estimates there’s been about $401 million invested in 35 companies so far this year. That’s a big increase, but it is a small fraction of the venture capital dollars available for investment. The agriculture technology market is still immature and most deals are early stage. As companies mature, the size of the deals and the dollars invested can only grow.
There are challenges ahead to feed the Earth’s ever increasing population, however rapid advances in precision and predictive farming, big data and drone technology will provide farmers with the resources they need to increase supply to the required levels and attract more and more attention from the investment community. AgTech promises to be the next big thing.
Just over a month ago GGS Structures Inc invested in a drone. We were interested in what the tiny yet powerful device could mean to the greenhouse industry.
Every day a handful of new articles pop up on news feeds with a new way that drone technology is being used. It's been interesting following this hot new trend. Just this week an amateur pilot of a drone helped locate and rescue an 82-year-old missing man helping end a three day search.
GGS decided to use the drone to make a video of some of our structures and put together a totally new perspective for looking at greenhouses from above. If you missed us at Cultivate 14 now is your chance to see some incredible footage.
With all the news and uses coming up since the release of these devices it's clear the technology has a future in the greenhouse industry.
We felt so strongly about it that for GGS Structures Inc's 35th anniversary we are celebrating by giving away a drone complete with a GoPro camera! Have a look at our video and enter to win!
It's been an exciting show this year and to wrap up Cultivate 14 we have created a slideshow of the highlights and Top Ten Takeaways . We hope to see you all again next year!
GGS Structures Inc was happy to open our mail and find that we received a thank you from Rose City Kids for helping make their annual dinner a success.
Along with our help Rose City was able to raise a total of $21,000 dollars for their program!
In April during the Rose City annual dinner it was announced that GGS Structures Inc. donated a rooftop greenhouse solarium to their mission.
For the past 6 years Rose City Kids has been actively reaching children in Welland's low income communities. Rose City Kids runs a number of weekly and weekend initiatives, reaching many children across the city of Welland. Role-modeling, building relationships, and providing practical assistance are just some of the keys to how they have effectively broken the cycle of poverty for countless children’s lives. Bi-weekly hundreds of children receive a bus ride to and from RCK, a hot meal and a treat to take home. Each child will also receive a personal home visit from a caring, loving member of Rose City Kids.
At GGS we believe in being a good corporate citizen and helping charitable organizations like Rose City Kids is one way we give back to the community. Read more about how giving Kids a greenhouse grows a community and the fine work being done by Rose City Kids.
Learn more about Rose City Kids and how you can contribute.
Starting out as a family business in 1979, the Canadian company GGS Structures, specialised in the design, manufacture, and installation of commercial greenhouse structures has become an important player in the North American greenhouse development. Speaking to the company’s president Leigh Coulter, we learn that GGS is a forward thinking greenhouse constructor that is not afraid to assist clients in building long-lasting greenhouses with the right heating, cooling, ventilation, benches, irrigation, environmental controls, and many other supplies. “No matter what kind of crop is grown, they are safe in our structures.”
GGS' Leigh Coulter together with customer Andrew Hendriks, Hendriks Greenhouses in Ontario. PICTURE BY THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR www.hamiltonbusiness.com
Having the chance to speak to GGS’ Leigh Coulter, the question that was on the tip of my tongue was about her company’s marketing activities in the medical marijuana business. On the company’s website much information can be found about this new developing industry. GGS Structures has developed a relationship with many of the medical marijuana growers in Canada and developed integrated growing solutions intended to maximize their production. In the United States the cultivation of this new greenhouse cash crop is a very difficult topic in regards to federal and state laws. “In the U.S. this is legal in some states, but illegal federally, which can be really problematic; in Canada, it is relatively straight forward, but very cumbersome,” explains Leigh, president of the family owned business.
GGS Structures' Sales Manager, Michael Camplin in a marijuana greenhouse.
According to Leigh, Health Canada has approved only 13 facilities. They are all warehouse facilities, and GGS has been instrumental in building the growing rooms for many of them. However, no greenhouses have been approved yet, but attempts are being made and GGS is working with interested growers to retrofit greenhouses for the regulatory requirements of Canada’s MMPR. “I’m not sure how big a market it’s going to be. In early April there were 650 applicants, the numbers now are close to 1,000, but only 13 have been approved, so it’s still a small speciality market in which large investments are needed and where we have developed a good expertise.”
GGS is also active in other industries as well; the company has a long-standing history in the North American ornamental greenhouse, produce greenhouses, and nursery industry.
Regarding the situation for greenhouse vegetable growers in North America, Leigh affirms that “this year was a tough start for all, as the winter was too long and very harsh; the growers had to spend a lot on the heating of their operations. Niagrow saw an increase in requests for energy efficiency improvements, and growers are definitely paying attention to payback on energy curtains we supply.”
“The same situation counts for the ornamental growers, there was a lot of produce still on the shelves in May, although the season has finished well for many growers. Our company growth and sales quite literally requires our customers to grow first, so we have a vested interest in helping our customers grow.”
GGS Structures is mainly focused on the North American market, but it also has clients all over the world. In Europe, it has clients in the Netherlands, Germany and in Asia it sells strongly in Japan. “We have a distributor there, so we do a lot of business in Japan. International business is exciting and it keeps you on your toes, as different regions have different demands and you need to be customer-focused, which also helps when selling to the customer next door,” said Leigh Coulter.
Construction going on inside a research greenhouse facility in Kenya
The strength of GGS globally is further augmented by a well thought out strategy of diversification, vertical, and horizontal integration. In addition to greenhouses and high tunnels GGS manufactures a line of fabric covered buildings branded under the name Tasco Dome which serves markets for cold storage, equestrian riding arenas, and training tracks, and recycling centers.
Remarkable project: a 900m training track for thoroughbred horses that GGS built in Japan.
GGS Structures is part of the Growers Greenhouse Supplies Inc. group of companies which includes Niagrow Systems Ltd. which is the leading North American mechanical engineering firm for hydronic heating in the greenhouse industry, and JGS Limited which provides specialty research greenhouse design and construction to governments, universities, and industry. Like GGS, JGS Limited builds research greenhouse facilities all over the world