Insights from Sarah Nolet and Airlie Landale from evokeAG 2019

Sarah from AgThentic shared her insights from evokeAG that took place in Melbourne on 19-20 February 2019. Refer to original post here.

“This week I was fortunate enough to head to Melbourne along with 1200+ others for the first (of what is likely going to be many) evokeAG event. It was a whirlwind of activity, with food trucks and coffee carts, edible insects and braindates, international delegations and world-class panels, virtual reality demonstrations, and of course startups.

The content was laid out across three streams: food, farm, and future. I loved facilitating the Alternative Farming and Faster, Smarter Farms panels, and I heard multiple people raving about Oded Shoseyov’s keynote on bio-inspired nanocomposite materials (check it out, it’s crazy cool)

Alternative Farming Panel Selfie

But content was only a very small portion of evokeAG. What I think made the event truly exceptional were the attendees, and the conversations I had with people from all over the world and all along the supply chain. So, instead of summarized takeaways from the program, I’ll share a few insights from the networking

“Where are the producers?”

This is a common question (usually said like a complaint) at agtech conferences. I heard it a few times this week. But I disagree. I talked to cattle producers from the Northern Territory, mixed farmers from WA, broadacre croppers from all over NSW, chicken farmers, rice farmers, wool growers, and many more. I’m not saying that growers were the majority- they weren’t. Nor am I saying that the content was tailored to them- it wasn’t.

Festival of Food with growers from WA and SA

But farmers did attend. And more importantly, the ones I talked to got a lot out of it. They learned about how VCs evaluate startups, browsed new products (some good, some great, and some not even close to ready), and even found investment opportunities. At the same time, the agtech community- myself included- got a lot out of connecting with them. It’s not every day that you get to speak with farmers from different industries who have self-selected for interest in ag innovation. Hearing new perspectives and starting to build a common language around challenges and opportunities in agrifood tech is absolutely vital, and evokeAG certainly encouraged this.

“Do your homework”

In their keynotes, both Arama Kukutai from Finistere Ventures and Michael Dean from AgFunder explained that many of the agtech sub-sectors (e.g., farm management software, irrigation IoT, etc.) are incredibly crowded. Investors I spoke with throughout the event echoed this sentiment, saying how frustrating it is to see copycat companies.

The implication for startups here is to do your homework! Know what other companies exist globally in your space, and be able to explain clearly and simply how you’re different.

“How can I get a job in….”

We often talk about the dire need to attract new talent to agriculture, as well as equip the next generation with new skill sets. So I was encouraged by the many young people I spoke with at evokeAG who are passionate, talented, and hungry for jobs.

What I appreciated most was how many of them approached me confidently and with really good questions, like: what do I need to do to get a job at an agtech company, what is working in VC like, and how can I build my personal brand in the ag industry even if I don’t know what job I want right now.

Future Young Leader Rayali Banerjee on the main stage

These young people are ambitious, curious, and hungry for opportunities. We need to encourage more of this, as well as build pathways for young people to develop their skills and gain exposure to what working in ag or agtech is really like. evokeAG has started to do this by putting Future Young Leaders front and center on the main stage. These leaders are confident and determined, and they have a vision for what ag should look like. We need to embrace this momentum and continue our efforts to attract and retain talent throughout the year.

“Sooo many announcements”

As a high profile, well-attended and well-publicized event, evokeAG was sure to feature many exciting announcements. It did not disappoint. This is exciting, and I am thrilled about the momentum for and energy surrounding agrifood tech innovation in Australia and New Zealand, and the diverse range of players bringing forward new initiatives.

The challenge with so many announcements is that it can be difficult to differentiate between initiatives and raises concerns as to whether we are really solving problems of fragmentation or just increasing them. These are all valid questions, but they aren’t ones that can be answered at evokeAG.

My belief is that these initiatives and interventions are like startups: they succeed or fail based on execution, not press or ideas. So despite the amazing time I had this week, in addition to continuing to celebrate and share the launch of so many great opportunities, I’m excited to get home, put my head down, and get back to work on delivering results. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

See you at evokeAG 2020.”

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Sarah.

We also had the opportunity to attend the evokeAG Conference in Melbourne. It was a world-class event that focused on people across the entire agtech ecosystem, from farmers through to startups, researchers, businesses, government and investors.

Some great agtech solutions we encountered over the two days that may be of interest to our on-farm readers included: Agrinet (Farm Wide Wireless Networks), Flurosat (Crop health and nutrition analytics), Livestock Pricing (Livestock price discovery service), Saltbush Pellets, thingc (automating organic agriculture), FarmLab (soil and plant testing), and AgriAce (remote electric fence monitor and fault locator).

If you have visited the Farm Table recently, you will have noticed a raft of improvements throughout the site. The next stage is to focus on improving and expanding the AgTech Hub within the ecosystem. As I told The Land last week and as was reconfirmed to me during my time at evokeAG this week:

“From livestock and cropping precision technologies, integrated remote sensing networks, farm management software and apps, to handling, milking and feeding equipment, the amount of available options can be overwhelming.”

“It is often difficult to understand what is the right technology solution for us, particularly with so many options available. Reducing the search costs in finding agtech solutions will be a key offering of the Farm Table moving forward.”

We can’t wait to offer you a much greater service for you to understand what there is on the market and how it can help you in your farm business. We also look forward to welcoming in businesses shortly to register with Farm Table for Business.

Some of our tweets from evokeAG are below to give you a sense of the content of a number of the presentations:

  • Last panel session @evokeAG “Maturing the Australasian startup eco-system”. “Mature agtech system?”, questions Emma from @Agri_Digital, “Perhaps more of a toddler stage”. When they started in Oct 2015 they entered a #fintech hub as the #agtech ecosystem didn’t exist yet
  • Emma from @Agri_Digital questioning the equity model of #agtech accelerators. “The jury is out on some of these accelerators as to how effective they are and whether the taking of a significant equity position is the right one.
  • Can Australia take a leadership role in the movement to reduce waste in food supply chains? @ethylevy from @TheBridgeHub puts the question/challenge to @evokeAG #evokeAG
  • Indigenous and native foods are part of the solution for the future of #ausag. They thrive in our climate and are “the story that sells Australian agriculture to the world”. But, native industries need #agtech and #investment to commercialise #nativefoods
  • Spencer Maughan, VC from Silicon Valley @finistereag: High potential in #aus #agtech. Big pieces that could be exciting but lagging behind rest of world in a pathetic way. And it’s not just ag.
  • Future Young Leader Callan Daly: We need to think hard & hard about how we talk about ourselves & what we do. “We are JUST farmers”, “I’m JUST doing a degree in Ag Science degree”. We need to use language that smashes this subconscious lack of pride in farming.
  • Natalie Engel, Sunlight Grazing, Producer Problem #pitchtent @evokeAG: We work way too hard for our beef to be undervalued, but assurance paperwork when truck ready to go takes over 2 hrs. Need one platform linking to all current quality assurance systems.
  • Genetic engineering human genes into tobacco plant to make human collagen. Farmers receive tobacco plantlet, grow for 50-60 days, leaves transported to factory. Then “if you’ve made pesto, you can make collagen. @collplant
  • Lisa from @SecureImpact on the @evokeag #pitchtent stage: There is no platform focused on solving the liquidity problem in agriculture. Presenting Secure Impact Marketplace, SecureX Exchange and the Digital ID title ownership.
  • Steven Saunders of NZ @Robotics_Plus: Farmers don’t want 10 different apps to solve a problem. Collaboration and collective thinking to solve issues along different value chains is required.
  • David Rosenberg of @AeroFarms – Vertical farming on a commercial level. | 95% less water, 0 pesticides, 390x productivity per square foot | And able to understand the plants better than anyone farming in the past through data analytics.

It was wonderful to catch up with SA friend Simone Kain (George the Farmer)
and Qld friend Fleur Anderson (Rural Business Collective, Cahoots) at evokeAG