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REGIONS EUROPE


Hightech in the LowCountries I


DESPITE ITS SIZE, THE NETHERLANDS PACKS A PUNCH IN AGRITECH, AND INVESTORS HAVE NOTICED. DANIELLE MYLES REPORTS


n the south of the Netherlands, Jacob van den Borne has gar- nered a reputation as the Elon


Musk of potatoes. Since taking over the family farm-


ing business in 2006, Mr van den Borne has become a model of preci- sion agriculture, introducing every- thing from GPS systems to autono-


mous tractors and soil sensors. This has improved his potato yields by up to1%annually since 2010, and he is already eyeing the next set of advancements. “We now see the potential of big data, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to help further optimise yield and quality,” he says. “If we can really understand all of mother nature’s processes, then I think the opportuni- ties are a lot bigger thanwhat we do now.” Among the Dutch, Mr van den Borne is no


anomaly. The Netherlands has emerged as a leader in all forms of agritech, which improves crop resilience and farming efficiencies while minimising land use. It has helped the tiny country become the world’s second biggest exporter of food, beaten only by the US.Muchof this crop yield is produced in high-tech green- houses: “In open fields in Spain you can harvest around 4 kilograms of tomatoes per square metre. A Dutch high-tech greenhouse produces 80 kilograms per square metre and with four times less water,” notes Ernst van den Ende, managing director of the plant sciences group at Wageningen University & Research, which ranks as theworld’s best agricultural university.


Ripe for disruption In a 2019 report the World Resources Institute warned that if today’s food production levels continue, most forests will have to be cleared to feed theworld’s nearly 10 billion people in 2050. Agritech is the only sustainable way to avoid global famine: a fact that astute investors started latching onto a decade ago. Pitchbook data


shows that venture capital in global agritech grewfrom$322min 2010 to $4.1bn in 2019, at a compound annual growth rate of 32.7%. Just like other sectors before it, farming is


transitioning into the 21st century. “The belated technology revolution hitting the food production sector is an opportunity to invest in exciting, youngtechnologies thatmove the nee- dle in terms of sustainability,” says Alastair Cooper, senior investment director of ADM Capital’s food-focused Cibus Fund. “The indus- try is late to the tech party, but it’s coming fast and promises very strong financial returns.” Investors say consolidation at the top of the


agriculture sector — thanks to a spate of mega- deals between the likes of Bayer and Monsanto, and Potash and Agrium — has stifled innovation withinthe industry’s big corporates. “It’s allbeen pusheddownto smaller players,” saysMrCooper. “This is where you see an explosion in the num- ber ofnewstrategies, opportunities and brands.” AdamAnders,managing partner ofAnterra


Capital, which became Europe’s first agrifood- tech focused venture capital fund in 2013, agrees that early-stage businesses are driving advancements: “To start a movement like this you need risk-taking, visionary entrepreneurs backed by high-risk private capital. We have seen this happen in every other sector, be it tel- ecoms,movies, taxis or music.Andit will be the same in food and agriculture.”


The Netherlands’ rise As often happens with venture capital, in its early years Amsterdam-headquartered Anterra focused on the advanced US market. But Mr Anders now finds more opportunities closer to home: “The fundamental technologies and ideas are well-placed in Europe, and extremely well-paced in the Netherlands.” He sees the country leading innovation in


five main agricultural areas: dairy, piggeries, vegetable seeds, greenhouse and flowers. “Its


THIS ISANOPPORTUNITY TO INVEST IN EXCITING, YOUNGTECHNOLOGIES THATMOVE THE NEEDLE IN TERMS OF SUSTAINABILITY


68 www.fDiIntelligence.com February/March 2021


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