The Ground is Fertile for Digital Innovation In Food Production

From farm to table: the Agrifood industry’s foray into AI will boost food security

As one of the top-tier fertilizers and specialty minerals corporations in the world, ICL chooses to work with innovative startups, synergize with their novelty, and short-cut their way to global play. Hadar Sutovsky, general manager of ICL Planet, ICL’s corporate startup hub, gives some insights on the digitization of the agrifood industry and highlights some of the progressive work by various startups in this area. ICL Planet is Innovation Partner of F&A Next 2023.

From the first noted irrigation systems built in Egypt and Mesapatomia that could divert the flow of underground streams from the Nile to water crop fields, to the ingenious crop rotation methods developed during the British Agricultural revolution, agriculture as a practice has been around for millenia. Today, the increasing demand for food by an ever-growing population and changing consumer preferences has spurred a digital revolution of the AgriFood industry. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning is shaping a new era for farmers and all stakeholders, along the entire agri-food value chain.

“ICT and AI are already making their mark in the agri sector bring high precision and efficiency to agriculture,” says Hadar Sutovsky, ICL vice president of External Innovation and general manager of ICL Planet. “ Today we have robotic systems that can analyse data on soil quality, weather patterns, and plant health to recommend optimal planting times, fertilizer application rates, and irrigation schedules. We have systems that can accurately monitor crops for pests and diseases, allowing farmers to act before the problems manifest.”

“We have GPS-controlled tractors that are capable of around-the-clock operation, ploughing, planting, and harvesting, added Sutovsky.“ Thanks to AI we can improve efficiency, reduce waste and optimize supply chain logistics, predict consumer demand, analyze consumer behavior and trends to help agrifood companies develop products that meet the changing demands of consumers. AI is also helping food companies develop new products, novel functional ingredients and improve the nutritional value of existing ones. The possibilities are endless.”

Tapping into digitized FoodTech with Artificial Intelligence

Numerous start-ups and major blue-chips are tapping into the digitized FoodTech and agri-world with their AI platforms.  Microsoft recently teamed up with Land O’Lakes to develop a new AI-powered platform aimed at improving the efficiency of dairy farming. The platform, called the Dairyland Initiative, will use machine learning and data analysis to provide dairy farmers with real-time insights on cow behaviour and milk production, enabling them to make more informed decisions about herd management. The initiative also includes the creation of a new Dairy Analytics Center, which will bring together experts in dairy farming, and veterinary science to develop new tools to improve the sustainability and productivity of dairy farming. It will ultimately help dairy farmers reduce their environmental footprint while improving the health and welfare of their cows.

Agrifood companies are also turning to Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) to digitize processes. Agrifood data infrastructure providers Leaf has made its farm data API available on AWS’ collective AI platform to help farmers automate tasks, improve crop yield production, optimize operations with more sustainable farming practices while concurrently boosting sales by granting farmers better market access to buyers.

AI is also proving instrumental in helping FoodTech startups identify new protein sources and improve precision fermentation processes in order to generate better yields and to release the scale and price bottle necks.  

Producer of animal-free dairy products Imagindairy has an AI platform that allows for the efficient production of milk proteins without the need for cows, and is poised to relieve the current scale-up bottlenecks. These dairy proteins are produced via precision fermentation: a process that involves using microorganisms to create specific whey and casein proteins which are used to create alternative dairy products. FoodTech startup Shiru developed an AI powered discovery platform Flourish™;- a broad database used to identify ingredients that can solve specific functional ingredient challenges.

Investing in digital agriculture

“ICL has made significant investments in digital agriculture and has been active in future farming and food production by developing innovative AgTech and FoodTech solutions that confront the myriad of challenges posed by food scarcity and the decline of arable land and weather changes, etc.,” asserts Sutovsky.

ICL founded and fully funded Agmatix, an agro-informatics company that processes data to support the decision-making of agronomists. Agmatix’s user-friendly Agronomic Field Trial Management tool is an end-to-end digital solution designed to enhance field trial and data quality helping farmers improve crop yields and exercise better sustainable agriculture.

ICL is magnifying its presence in the digital farming and functional ingredients landscape through various initiatives, including the establishment of the ICL Planet Startup Hub which is the platform ICL uses to invest in and collaborate with innovative companies in the FoodTech and AgTech domains.

Digital biotech and sustainable fermented protein ingredients

One of its portfolio companies Lavie Bio leverages Biology Driven Design AI tech-engine to develop microbiome-based biopesticides and bio stimulants designed to reduce the reliance on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This strategic collaboration will focus on developing novel bio-stimulant products to enrich fertilizer efficiency.  Combining Lavie Bio’s ag-biologicals expertise and cutting-edge technology with ICL’s advanced knowledge of fertilizer use and farmers’ needs is aimed to facilitate the development of new and innovative products for the agriculture industry.

In 2021, ICL Planet welcomed Protera Biosciences to their hub to produce sustainable fermented protein ingredients. Protera uses Madi™, a deep-learning platform that creates clean-label ingredients by predicting and matching the structure and functionality of vegetable proteins. These ingredients can replace chemical additives, texturisers, and stabilizers, improving the sensory properties in plant-based applications. Protera designs proteins from a database of over 1.5 billion edible protein sequences and applies precise fermentation parameters to create a variety of plant-based products, including meat, dairy, and egg substitutes, as well as protein-rich food and beverages. The new platform will help to discover untapped functional plant-based proteins that they believe could positively impact global food security.

“This is an exciting time for the agrifood industry. Thanks to AI, we have the opportunity to transform the way we produce and enjoy food, paving the way for more efficiency and a more sustainable and abundant future.” Sutovsky concludes.

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