John Hartnett’s tips to size up ag tech and how he sees the future of ag

Source: Grain News

There are a lot of new agricultural technologies heading your way. How do you sort which technologies to put your money on from the ones to pass up? John Hartnett, CEO and founder of SVG Ventures and its accelerator program, Thrive, has a few pointers.

In case you haven’t heard about Thrive, Hartnett or SVG Ventures, here is a bit of background. SVG Ventures is a venture capital fund and is recognized as the largest active investor in ag tech. It has invested in more than 5,000 startups in 100 countries, including Canada.

Hartnett says the focus of SVG Ventures and Thrive is to advance the future of food and agriculture through innovation, with entrepreneurs and innovators helping to solve some of the biggest challenges in the farming community worldwide. The Thrive accelerator program invests, accelerates and creates access for entrepreneurs to scale globally to solve the biggest challenges the food and agriculture industries are facing. Companies that have come through the program have created about $1 billion in value, Hartnett says. Last June, the Thrive accelerator platform was launched in Canada, which will support early-stage Canadian startups from all areas of the food supply chain. Its headquarters are in Calgary, Alta.

SVG Ventures has been selecting the best technologies to invest in and to put through its accelerator platform since 2010. Hartnett, who has a long history investing in technology, says growth in agri-food tech has grown 10 times in eight years — investment in this sector has gone from $2 billion in venture capital to nearly $30 billion in 2021. There are many different technology solutions out there, Hartnett acknowledges, and farmers must carefully select proven technologies, he says. This is something Thrive does as part of its accelerator program.

Things to consider when evaluating technologies, Hartnett says, are does the technology do what it says it can do? Does it deliver on cost savings? Is it proven out in the field? How much is it saving? “Those kinds of key proof points are very, very important,” he says.

Also, traction in the marketplace — how many customers have used it and how many acres has the technology been tested on? “Is it a handful of farms or is (the technology) in millions of acres or around the world? I think traction is very important because farmers are very careful about what they choose. It’s a great acid test to see where your solution is in the marketplace today.”

These were some of Hartnett’s points during a presentation at Farm Forum Event 2021. He also shared his thoughts on what he thinks the future of ag looks like.

The future of ag

First, we will see a digital transformation of data management and data will be used to predict an action or drive a decision, Hartnett says.

“Data is what makes decisions. If there’s anonymous data, that can give you decision-making power. One of the challenges today with a lot of this automation and digital transformation is there are too many solutions and, ‘All I’m looking for as a farmer is show me the one pane of glass that I can look for with all of the information I can use.’ That is yet to come in a big way, and I think that’s going to drive more adoption on usage.”

Another area we could see much more of in the future is blockchain and traceability. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s paper called “Blockchain for Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges,” blockchain “consists of a linked chain that stores auditable data in units called blocks. Many commentaries online start by explaining that a blockchain is similar to a Google document spreadsheet where multiple authors can contribute because of the mechanism of locking. Blockchain is a bit more complex than that example and has unique characteristics that make it an attractive technology for tagging, storing and tracking anything of value.”

According to the government of Canada, traceability is “the ability to track the movement of a food or a food commodity, one step back and one step forward.”

We’re going to see a lot more activity in this area, says Hartnett; for example, companies like, are “integrating right across the supply chain and tracking and tracing of food.”

Another area gaining traction is solutions to challenges around managing labour in agriculture. Significant investment is going into robotics automation, says Hartnett. “Labour continues to be a big challenge — the availability of labour and COVID have caused some challenges. I think you’re going to see robotics automation playing a key role.”

Vertical farming is also on Hartnett’s list of what the future of ag will look like. (Vertical farming is growing crops in vertically stacked layers using hydroponics and aeroponic technologies.) He says although it doesn’t make sense for all crops, adoption of vertical farming for speciality crops and high-value crops will increase.

“I think vertical farming is going to be like the internet of the ’90s — a few people using it to being a much broader usage.”

And, finally, when it comes to the future, next-generation proteins are here to stay, driven by forces centred on sustainability as well as the perceptions of what’s healthy and what’s good for the planet by younger audiences and generations. “You’re looking at companies (like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat) that didn’t exist a decade ago and these are now worth tens of billions of dollars. They’re worth more than some of the big burger chains across the United States, so they’re not going away,” says Hartnett.