While in 2019 farmers represented 1.9% of the workforce in France, this sector is experiencing a dynamic renewal driven by technological innovation, data and artificial intelligence. As evidenced by the flourishing emergence of AgriTech start-ups, for more sustainable agriculture and food.
The agricultural world is a fertile ground for innovative digital start-ups. Precision farming, new less painful practices, farm assistance and management, cost optimization, local distribution … Whether they allow better production or facilitate interactions between farmers or with their suppliers and customers, these young shoots of the AgriTech all have one thing in common: they collect, process – using artificial intelligence – and use all types of data (market, meteorological, geographic, agronomic, etc.) and must enable farmers to improve their economic model , their performance or their environmental footprint. New technologies are inventing the agriculture of tomorrow: high-tech agriculture 4.0.
Welcome to French AgriTech
Because France is the leading agricultural producer in Europe and the ecosystem of AgriTech and FoodTech start-ups is one of the most dynamic on the continent, the government launched on August 30 the program ” French AgriTech ”: an envelope of € 200,000 to promote, over the next five years, the development of solutions accessible to farmers and consumers for sustainable agriculture and food. This program, which will help promote some 380 start-ups, is all the more necessary given the sizeable agricultural challenge: 160,000 farms are to be taken over within three years, i.e. a third of French farms, 70 000 agricultural jobs are to be filled each year and 20% of agricultural soils suffer from erosion.
Xavier Niel co-founded Hectar (the “Station F of agriculture”) which will open its doors to start-ups in January 2022 in the Haute Vallée de Chevreuse. The largest agricultural ecosystem in the world, it will bring together on a single site a training campus, research and experimentation spaces, a start-up accelerator, seminar and educational spaces, and a large farm in regenerative agriculture. The boss of Free hears “Make agriculture sexy” and attract 2,000 young people per year, to turn them into farmer-entrepreneurs, generators of sustainable projects – interesting enough to win over investors. ” We must attract an entire generation of young people to change agriculture, to produce better, cheaper and smarter ”, he explains.
Drones to produce better
Drones were among the first technologies used in agriculture because they promote precision. Equipped with sensors, they facilitate the analysis of a whole panoply of data (level of nitrogen, chlorophyll, biomass, humidity level, water stress, etc.) thanks to which farmers can precisely adapt the use of inputs. These technologies have also made it possible to reduce their use, thus facilitating sustainable and reasoned agriculture. The start-up Abot is positioned as a major player in this transition.
The straddle gantry equipped with tools from the start-up NéoFarm is sowing here. © Pauline Garaud
The agricultural drone is also used to assist breeders, monitoring the herds and their movements in parks and pastures. And, last January, the Naturama association, specializing in eco-grazing, launched the “My local shepherd” app to put breeders and shepherds in touch with individuals, businesses and local authorities. A geolocated application, in the circular economy, which contributes to local and rural development.
Robots and artificial intelligence
The robotization of cultivation practices, associated with AI, is another essential aspect of this ” new agriculture “. As evidenced by NeoFarm, a start-up looking at turnkey market gardening farm models. Here, high-tech and agroecology come together: two complementary models intended to develop jointly. In addition to a robotic straddle gantry, equipped with a dozen tools that perform cultural tasks (sowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, etc.), the young shoot has developed an application for intelligent management of market gardening activity, sensors and automations, allowing, among other things, the control of irrigation and aeration.
These new farmers, mostly young entrepreneurs from agro-engineering schools, are competing in their imagination to come up with new solutions, including in the biological treatment of crops. For winegrowers, whose diseases and frost are the pet peeve, UVBoosting is a very promising solution for the future. “Our Hélios machine flashes the leaves with UVC, which increases the secretion of salicylic acid and therefore the leaf’s self-resistance to diseases such as frost. Our technology is not a substitute for inputs, but it makes it possible to reduce their use by 40% ”, specifies Baptiste Rouesne, CEO of the start-up founded four years ago.
UVBoosting protects the vines by flash. Its managing director, Baptiste Rouesne, is demonstrating this machine here in front of the Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie, and the Secretary of State in charge of Digital Transition Cédric O. © Pauline Garaud
With more than 500 million euros raised in 2020, French AgriTech start-ups are ranked fifth in the world. It is no coincidence that the government aims to make France “The global cradle of AgriTech”.