Source.ag raises $23M to raise the bar on raising crops with AI
Based in the Netherlands, blossoming agtech startup Source.ag has announced a $23 million Series A funding round to help grow its business, less than a year after its previous, $10 million round. The company assists commercial greenhouse crop growers adjust their growing conditions, optimize their resources and maximize their yields by using state-of-the-art AI models to predict how their plants will grow under different conditions. Food production is both energy and water-intensive ("fun" fact: agricultural irrigation uses 70% of water worldwide) and with the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it strikes me that it wouldn't be a bad idea to use a bit less water to grow our food.
The company is taking a bet on greenhouse agriculture being a sustainable, local and climate-resilient food production method that can provide a tailored environment for each specific crop. Source.ag’s technology, then, aims to enable growers to make better-informed decisions about their crops and greenhouses to facilitate more sustainable harvests.
Source.ag’s seed funding was used primarily for R&D and to develop Source Track, a software platform to assist growers in operating their facilities. It has worked with hundreds of users over thousands of acres of high-tech greenhouses, making it ripe for expansion. The Series A funding, led by Astanor Ventures and including investments from Acre Venture Partners and several of the Netherlands’ leading greenhouse operators, will enable the development of two new products: Source Cultivate and Source Control.
“We will release several new products in the next 24 months, including Source Cultivate, which will give growers unprecedented predictive powers and the ability to leverage AI in finding optimal growing strategies," explains Rien Kamman, Source.ag’s co-founder and CEO. "In essence, we’re giving growers a crystal ball in which they can see how external factors and strategic decisions will impact the development of their crops, including the associated resource usage, costs and returns. Based on this we support growers finding the growth strategy that is right for them."
"One of our customers in France already used Source Cultivate to simulate different pruning and climate strategies for its tomato crops, getting instant feedback from our AI how different strategies would impact plant health, yield and profit over the whole season," Kamman adds. "This enabled the grower to find the perfect growing strategy -- tailored to his geographic location, resource prices, facility type and seed genetics."
The largest global fresh vegetable sectors, for example tomatoes and bell peppers, have been Source.ag’s main focus to date, but its aim is to assist all growers, everywhere, to manage the best harvest possible.
"Source.ag’s goal is to give growers and farmers similar superpowers for growing their crops. Source.ag will be able to provide real-time advice on how to best grow crops, no matter what you grow or how you grow it," says Kamman. "It’s mind-boggling that there are 3 billion people that do not have access to sufficient fresh produce."
To the company's founder, Source.ag is about the democratization of agricultural knowledge through AI, allowing the cultivation of fresh fruits and vegetables in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.
"I believe Source.ag is uniquely positioned to ‘bridge the gap’ between the digital world of AI and the real world of plants, growers and farming," Kamman says. "We have deep experience in building applied AI, and we’ve been able to attract top talent who collaborate closely with the best growers in the world."
Kamman and his co-founder, Ernst van Bruggen, had been building AI systems for large corporations for many years, but having grown up in the Netherlands -- one of the largest fresh fruit and vegetable producers in Europe -- the duo felt they would be able to apply their knowledge and skills to help farmers feed the world. They quit their jobs and founded Source.ag in early 2020 to hybridize tech and food.
For Kamman, Source.ag isn’t just a software vendor; he sees it as a long-term partner in a growing operation where the farmers are the heroes. If farming and tech might sound like strange bedfellows, Kamman is keen to point out how both growers and developers practice a craft and through this, they find common ground.
"I’ve found that craftsmen recognize, and easily connect with, other craftsmen -- even outside their domain. It’s the love for the profession that is the connector, especially when combined with a humble curiosity in each other's profession," Kamman concludes. "It’s amazing to see our developers spend time in the greenhouse with the grower, learning from them firsthand what Source can build to help growers become even more successful."