Nearly everything we do in our lives is related to forests. Whether it’s writing in a notebook, building a house, taking fever medicine, drinking water, or simply breathing, all these things would not be possible without the forests inhabiting the planet. Unfortunately, we as a global community have not been taking care of our forests, as we cut them down for commercial use, or make them burn faster and more frequently since our increased use of GHG has led to a hotter and dryer climate. On this International Forest Day, let’s explore some of the Israeli startups that are helping our forests, trees, plants, and agriculture.
As Dganit Vered, the CEO of Smart Agro Fund, an R&D partnership that specializes in agritech investments and the growth of agritech companies, stated "Climate change is going to get worse. We can't afford to wait any longer – we need to act right now. The aspects of agritech—finding solutions for degrading soil, creating plants that deal with weather conditions, using genetics to solve some of the problems– the capacity to change the way we approach agriculture by bringing technology into it is pivotal because the challenges we face require dramatic solution…Trying to find solutions is critical for the survival of the planet.”
BeeHero, founded in 2017, is optimizing pollination cycles and increasing yields all while maintaining bees’ welfare. BeeHero has developed a precision pollination platform for monitoring and treating beehives using artificial intelligence, in-hive sensors, and big data. With more than a hundred thousand hives under management and over 45 000 acres serviced, BeeHero is the largest pollination provider in the world and a significant agent in ensuring our plants and vegetation remain fertilized.
Up until 15 years ago, pollination was not a concern as it was only around 2006 when bee colonies started disappearing. Nowadays we have a name for this phenomenon – colony collapse disorder or CCD– which occurs when many worker bees in a given colony suddenly die. Without worker bees, hives cannot sustain themselves and CCD has led to a 40% bee mortality rate year after year. With the human population approaching 10 billion people by mid-century and 75% of all food crops depending on bees’ pollination, saving the bees – the most important pollinator – is nothing less than a challenge for our survival. “Resolving the global food crisis depends on the joint efforts of farmers and beekeepers; they must accelerate and innovate knowledge and processes," Omar Davidi, CEO of BeeHero.
BetterSeeds (formerly CanBreed) was founded in 2017, by Ido Margalit (CEO) and Dr. Tal Sherman (VP R&D). BetterSeeds applies and improves the CRISPR-cas9 gene-editing technology to develop new, improved varieties of selected crops. The improvement is achieved by embedding essential game-changing traits, which are currently not available due to the limitations of conventional breeding and enhancement methods. Gene editing enables precise and rapid breeding by introducing pre-selected, controlled, and specific changes into the plant’s genome. BetterSeeds also develops novel technologies designed to make CRISPR accessible generically to all crops thus resolving a significant bottleneck in CRISPR adoption for agricultural applications.
With the world’s population growth, diminished availability of farming lands, frequent economic and climate changes, and various technological limitations, modern agriculture has exhausted its ability to leverage the available resources; it cannot meet the growing demand of the world. That is why developing new growing methods with better yields for the same area unit is crucial. One of the genetic traits BetterSeeds offers is higher resistance to the changing global climate conditions. This trait can provide more flexible flora. As Ido Margalit, BetterSeeds’ CEO and co-founder, said, “BetterSeeds is proud to be amongst the pioneering and leading companies in the world applying and making CRISPR accessible to save agriculture, which has been dwindling in most developed countries due to crops’ incompatibility to the current conditions and the challenges facing humanity.”
Saturas Ltd, founded in 2013 by Moshe Meron and Anat Halgoa (CEO), develops and manufactures sensor-based irrigation sensor systems for crops. They offer sensors that provide accurate information for optimized irrigation to reduce water consumption and increase fruit production and quality. The technology tailors irrigation to the real-time water needs of the crop, resulting in more efficient water use while increasing yields.
Irrigated crops need a supply of water matched to the plants’ changing demands. Even a briefly inadequate supply can decrease crop yields by up to 40 %. Ideally, farmers would provide exactly as much water as plants need, precisely when they need it. However, in practice, this is difficult to achieve. Therefore, many farmers tend to overwater to be safe, but overwatering causes numerous environmental problems, plus unnecessary extra costs for farmers. Saturas’ system measures water stress in plant tissues as an indication of the plant's water needs, thus enabling farmers to plan the timing and quantity of irrigation exactly. Their device saves water, energy, and reduces the carbon footprint of a farm.
Taranis is a leading precision AgTech intelligence platform that uses sophisticated computer vision, data science and deep learning algorithms to effectively monitor fields and produce actionable insights for farmers and retailers. Taranis offers a full-stack solution using high precision aerial imagery to prevent crop yield loss due to insects, crop disease, weeds, and nutrient deficiencies. Overseeing millions of acres of farmland in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Australia, Taranis targets high-volume commodity crops which account for 70% of the global crop market and give farmers the tools to address issues in real-time, increasing yields and cutting costs.
Today’s agricultural landscape is changing rapidly due to climate change. As global farmlands decrease and demands upon growers increase, there is a need for an accurate understanding of the field by utilizing innovative technology to accelerate decision-making, simplify management, and improve the bottom line. Taranis enables today’s advisors and growers to cover more acres and act with surgical precision. This means more strategic use of products improving not just plant health and yield but stewardship and sustainability. As Bar Weinstein, CEO of Taranis, stated, "Taranis is building the technology to help empower more sustainable practices and decisions for farmers and their advisors. Our precision-ag solutions allow for farmers to see exactly what is needed when, be it from less fertilizer, herbicides, or even water. This all leads to more sustainable decision making and fewer greenhouse gasses being emitted.”
Agmatix is an agro-informatics company that promotes precision agriculture by developing data-driven solutions for ag professionals worldwide. Their cutting-edge technology platform uses crop data science and advanced AI technology to convert agronomic data from trials and on-farm experiments into actionable insights at the field level. The SaaS platform digitizes field trials and leverages data fusion of harmonized agronomic research data, enabling descriptive and statistical cross trail analysis in one place. With a revolutionary approach, Agmatix aims to solve the lack of data standardization to dramatically improve agricultural practices, crop yields, nutritional quality, and promote sustainable agriculture.
Among others, Agmatix has been working alongside Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to research soybean sudden death syndrome (SDS). Additionally, they have worked with the top global agricultural university Wageningen (WUR) and the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) to create a public database designed to improve understanding of crop nutrient uptake and removal. They have also released a Plant Nutrition Carbon Footprint Optimizer to enable agronomists and growers to optimize fertilizer use, preventing over-fertilization. Ron Baruchi, CEO of Agmatix, commented by saying, “Growers, agronomists, researchers and ag industry experts are tackling today’s biggest challenge - providing food security for the world’s growing population. While searching for a solution, each of them is creating and collecting vast amounts of data and expertise. But to face this epic challenge, they will need to be able to share the data and knowledge between them. Our technology provides a solution that unites, standardizes, and leverages agricultural data, allowing it to effectively manage agronomic research trials and translate them into real-life practices in a one-stop-shop.”