Start-up leverages power of AI to enable more cost-effective acceleration of greenhouse agriculture
Proponents of covered agriculture such as greenhouses argue it provides higher food security under increasingly challenging weather conditions, as it can protect crops against extreme heat, cold, rainfall and pests.
A drawback, however, are the high energy costs of heating greenhouses. That’s a particular problem at the moment with energy inflation at unprecedented highs. In the UK, for example, the National Farmers Union has warned of a tipping point in the country with growers unwilling to plant crops in greenhouses because of the high expense.
According to Source.ag, however, AI is key to helping growers worldwide to accelerate their growth and operate facilities more efficiently. The Dutch company provides AI for greenhouse growers and has closed $23 million (EUR22 million) in its Series A funding round, bringing the company’s total funding to $35 million in just under two years.
Source.ag launched its first commercial products in the summer of 2022 and will use the new funds to introduce two new AI products that it claims will drive safe, reliable and climate-resilient food production by supporting greenhouse growers with advice on the optimal way to grow their crops.
The Dutch company claims it has increased by tenfold the number of users of its products in 12 months, partnering with the world's leading growers to help increase vegetable yields in the face of the growing energy and climate crises.
The idea behind Source.ag’s AI platform is to allow more growers to operate more acres in more locations more efficiently, thereby accelerating the global adoption of greenhouse agriculture.
Greenhouse agriculture is a proven solution to sustainable, local, and climate-resilient food production, Source.ag claimed. Today almost half (46%) of our global habitable land is used for agriculture, according to the company. Greenhouse agriculture, however, produces up to 15 times higher yields without the need for arable land. Greenhouse grown fruit and vegetables require up to 20 times less water compared to traditional farming, it further claimed. This can help reduce water usage in areas where freshwater is scarce while still enabling locally grown fresh produce. “Greenhouse agriculture allows us to provide healthy diets with a very small footprint, unlocking the ability to give scarce arable land back to nature where possible,” the company declared.
Founded in 2020 by Rien Kamman (CEO) and Ernst van Bruggen (CPO), Source.ag has brought together a team of experienced engineers and plant scientists and has partnered with the world’s leading growers to build the sector’s most advanced artificial intelligence. Their proprietary algorithms simulate plant behaviour to define and execute optimal cultivation strategies, taking into account millions of data points on climate, biology, and resources.
The Netherlands is seen as the global epicentre of greenhouse agriculture expertise. With 12,000 acres of high-tech greenhouses, this is one of the largest and most advanced food production hubs in the world, providing fresh produce for a big part of the European market. Advanced agricultural technology has enabled the Netherlands to become one of the largest exporters in agricultural goods (measured in terms of value), coming in second behind the US despite being a nation that is 270 times smaller than the US.
Rien Kamman, CEO and co-founder of Source.ag, explained: “Our technology provides growers with real-time, highly tailored advice on how to optimally grow their crops, and we support them in running a successful growing operation.” He added that by enabling more growers to operate more facilities more efficiently through pioneering tech, Source.ag aims to make greenhouse agriculture accessible, profitable and globally scalable. “We’re on a mission to provide nutritious food to more people, using fewer resources."
AI can help with the energy costs, Kamman told FoodNavigator. "Like many industries, greenhouse agriculture is actively working on transitioning to the use of more sustainable energy sources such as geothermal, for heating purposes," he said. "Greenhouse agriculture already boasts considerable efficiency in energy, space and water use, and the current energy situation will be a trigger for the industry to further accelerate the broad use of sustainable energy and commit to circularity. What we see today is that we can already support growers to make better decisions about energy use, as AI can empower growers to find the cultivation strategies that are optimized for efficiency, enabling greenhouses to grow more produce using fewer inputs."
Upholding what it called “the trillion-dollar potential of the fresh produce industry”, the new investment will see Source.ag enable growers to operate at optimized efficiency using its AI technology to track and improve cultivations.
The Series A funding round was led by Astanor Ventures and includes investments from Acre Venture Partners, and several of the Netherlands’ leading greenhouse operators.
Source.ag focuses on the largest global fresh vegetable segments such as tomatoes and peppers, with the ambition to ultimately help all fruit and vegetable growers. After the successful commercial launch and implementation of its first product, Source Track, the company will be launching two new products in 2023. Source Cultivate and Source Control will enable growers to simulate full seasons of crop growth, tailored to specific gene and crop varieties, in order to grow their crops in the best way possible. The new funding will also help Source.ag expand its AI to support even more crop types and farming methods.
Arnout Dijkhuizen, Investment Principal at Astanor Ventures said: “Focusing truly on where tech meets nature, Source.ag has succeeded where many have said it was impossible: cracking standardization, data gathering and plant phenotyping with AI models that can simulate plant biology and help to optimize photosynthesis. More importantly, they are helping growers across the world operate their farms more efficiently, making greenhouse farming globally accessible and scalable, thereby democratizing access to fruit and vegetables.”