Agriculture is Georgia’s oldest and largest industry, but it might not be the industry where “innovation” is top of mind.
A growing number of entrepreneurs across the state and the Southeast region are working to change that narrative — and funding is starting to follow.
Global VC investments in the space grew 20% between 2020 and 2021, reaching $8 billion. Southeast startups snagged two of the largest AgTech venture deals this year (Charleston’s AmplifiedAg with a $40 million venture round and Fayetteville, Arkansas’ AcreTrader with a $12 million Series A). AppHarvest, a high-tech greenhouse startup in Kentucky, went public via SPAC in the early part of 2021, as the race for more resilient, local food sources continues.
That could bode well for Georgia moving forward. As Chris Chammoun, AgTech director at the Georgia Center of Innovation (COI), told Hypepotamus, “Agriculture is a little different than other tech industries. You don’t really see something that comes out somewhere else around that world having a direct translation into us in the Southeast…it all depends on different soil types and different climates.”
Most AgTech startups in the region are concentrated in the Research Triangle (check out venture-backed AgBiome, Pairwise Plants, Vestaron, and Plant Response to get a glimpse at how North Carolina is improving crop and produce production).
To date, UGA, Fort Valley State, and Georgia Southern’s initiative at the Georgia Grown Innovation Center have spearheaded more rural initiatives in the space. But the Georgia Center of Innovation (COI) is working to make the state the next big name in AgTech.
It will take startup innovation both in urban and rural communities to make that happen.
Chammounsaid the state is looking to lead in four specific verticals: Integrated precision ag (think drones and autonomous equipment), controlled environments/Greenhouses, food product innovation, and food system technology.
It’s not just about figuring out how to grow more peaches and pecans.
But Atlanta-based Grubbly Farms and Copiana are taking a different, more urban approach to food innovation. Grubbly Farms has carved out a unique niche for sustainable insect-based feed for backyard chickens. Copiana, a new aeroponic vertical farm company, gained traction at the highly-trafficked Ponce City Market over during the last year as the team looks to bring more sustainable food options to offices, apartment complexes, and restaurants.
Other AgTech companies across the country, like Pure Flavor and Pete’s, have recently decided to relocate to Georgia. That could bring more opportunities for innovation in the controlled environment space.
At its core, AgTech startups are looking to improve efficiency, increase yields, and decrease costs associated with growing food. But it will require experts in automation, energy usage, supply chain, drone technology, and sensors to really scale it as a tech sector and tackle global food insecurity challenges.
Those are spaces where Georgia startups are already leading. Perhaps AgTech could be the next large tech industry that puts Georgia on the map.
Feature Photo from CAES Newswire at the University of Georgia