The ROI of AgVocacy

Thursday, March 2, 2017
By: Louisa Burwood-Taylor, Chief Editor
AgVocacy Forum - Louisa Burwood-Taylor

Some of my fondest childhood memories relate to agriculture. I spent all of my holidays in South West Wales, a beautiful farming region of the UK. It was predominantly a livestock farming area, and I would help local farming friends herd their dairy cattle or feed their calves, bringing me great joy. After high school, I traveled to Costa Rica where my uncle had a dairy farm but also attempted to grow some of the region’s first organic strawberries! I spent several months working on that “huerta” and that opened my eyes to a totally different type of farming, agriculturally and culturally.

Growing up in the city of London meant I was drawn in other directions, and with the global financial crisis unraveling before my eyes, I decided to go into financial journalism. This involved living in Asia and reporting on equities at first and, later, investment. I became particularly interested in alternative investing, which was becoming popular among investors who were nervous about the volatility the GFC had contributed to in the public markets, and soon my life came full circle and I was launching a new publication back in the UK that focused on investing in agriculture!

Agriculture was slowly growing as investment destination, as it offered something real and tangible people could visualize and understand. The performance of farmland compared to the stock market was also impressive, as we were coming to the end of the commodity price peak and all time farmland price highs in the U.S.

As soon as I started reporting for Agri Investor, I knew I had found my niche. Or maybe niche is the wrong world, as I’m always struck by how diverse and complex the agriculture industry is!

Originally, “agritech” was just a small area of the overall agricultural investment landscape, with startups in the space raising just $500 million in 2012. When I joined the AgFunder team in July 2015, it was the middle of the most active year on record for agritech investing; the year culminated in $4.6 billion of investment.  

There has been a real awakening to the fact that agriculture has, in many respects, been left behind technologically, despite representing 10 percent of global GDP and feeding the world!

There’s tremendous potential to bring new efficiencies to farming, improve productivity, and ensure the sustainable development of the industry. Agritech startups include biological inputs, sensors, drones, indoor farming technologies, and farm management software.

We’re seeing entrepreneurs come to agriculture from other industries, bringing their expertise across these technology types.  We’re also seeing farmers and agribusinesses innovating new solutions themselves.

At AgFunder, we are constantly mapping the market and reporting on investment and innovation technology. We’ve built a global network of 27,000 by doing this. And we hope this has helped to develop the ecosystem, particularly by providing information that investors and startups can use to build a case for the sector.

Investment in the space has fluctuated. In 2016, investment fell 30 percent due to a number of different factors, including a general pullback across all venture capital industries. In large part, it was down to 2015 being a real blockbuster year with a record number of unicorn startups – those valued at over $1 billion. This prompted investor caution in 2016. Although the investment dollar amount decreased, the number of deals increased 10 percent, highlighting the growing number of entrepreneurs and investors turning their attention to agriculture – and with good reason! I love to witness the lightbulb moment when investors come to AgFunder and realize the opportunities to make their mark on one of the most important global industries in the world, through investments in new ag technologies that promote new farming practices, food security, and global stability. The space is busier than ever and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. There are opportunities for everyone, even for those who never fathomed being involved with agriculture like myself. And at AgFunder, we are on a mission to help fund this next agricultural revolution, and bring as many people as possible along with us.

What I really love about my job is that I’m constantly learning. Each day, I speak to countless different people, innovating in agriculture, investing in it, or operating in it. One day I’m learning about gene-editing and the microbiome, and the next day I’m discussing how to use satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to plant seeds efficiently and apply crop protection products with little excess. It takes an image that many people have of agriculture and turns it on its head! Agritech is incredibly diverse – and it’s so exciting!

By bringing investors, entrepreneurs, and other agricultural stakeholders information about the latest in the investment world, I continue to serve as an AgVocate. I believe it’s important we all join in the quest to feed our future through investing in sustainable agriculture, not only with financial investments but also through the investment of our time and resources.

The world population is expected to reach nearly 9.6 billion by 2050, and producing enough healthy and nutritious food for all will require collaboration and engagement across the ag sector and beyond.  It is important for everyone who plays a role in this important work to #AgVocate by sharing their story. Be sure to check out the other participants’ blogs as they #AgVocate. Tomorrow’s post will be hosted by Roger Lowe, EVP, Grocery Manufacturers Association, to discuss the SmartLabel™ initiative.


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