Colorado Agtech Hits Critical Mass

Barbie Espinol

A 3rd-generation Colorado farmer, Marc Arnusch grows barley and other grains on 2,200 acres in the Prospect Valley east of Keenesburg. 

His son, Brett, joined Marc Arnusch Farms following he graduated from Colorado Point out University’s College or university of Agricultural Sciences in 2018. “We did not know if he’d arrive back again to the farm or not,” Arnusch suggests. 

But Brett did appear back to the farm, and as the main technologies officer applied soil moisture probes and drone imaging. He also aided establish proprietary software program to take care of the farm’s functions. 

“Halfway by means of faculty, he learned there was a full new environment in production agriculture on the tech side,” Marc States. 

Brett has applied precision know-how in the farm’s irrigation program even though integrating a large assortment of information on planting schedules, weather and crop security into the farm’s determination-producing course of action. 

“He’s actually helped us find subsequent-degree efficiencies,” Marc states. “We’re just earning choices more quickly, and decisions are made simpler.” 


A person example: Soil dampness probes unveiled some hail-stricken crops have been not likely to survive in summer time 2018, so the farm turned off the spigots and other inputs. “We understood the crop was offering it up, and that saved us a important amount of money of investment decision that ordinarily we would have place into the crop,” Marc suggests. 

Marc claims he likes to be a wise adopter instead of an early a single, but notes that the farm—and agriculture as a whole—is frequently on the cutting edge. “We’ve experienced autonomous, self-driving tractors due to the fact the early 2000s,” he notes. “Adopting the right technological innovation on our farm has rewarded us so considerably.” 

The procedure is at present beta-tests a sensor-pushed irrigation system to a lot more competently water the crops. “It’s mainly wanting within the plant we can not get inside of as farmers and agronomists.” 

“Without concern, I would say technologies has lessened our dependence on labor, and we’re coming up with greater high-quality,” Marc says. “We have to continue on to adopt these systems to endure, evolve and innovate.”


He adds, “Sustainability commences with possessing a income, due to the fact if we simply cannot meet up with our obligations to other individuals, we’re not likely to be right here.” 

Arnusch Farms is not distinctive. “Agriculture’s usually been technologically subtle, it just does not search like it to the exterior observer,” says Gregory Graff, who has been exploring the rise in financial commitment in agtech at Colorado Point out College for nearly a 10 years. “People see lots of mud and damaged-down equipment and things like that.” 

Annual throughout the world financial investment in agtech was hovering all over $200 million till it took off starting off in 2007 and exploded when Monsanto purchased weather conditions modeling startup The Climate Corp. in 2013 for about $1 billion. 

“Suddenly, cha-ching!” claims Graff, a professor in CSU’s Office of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “Venture capital additional or less drank the Kool-Help, whatever analogy you want, but they definitely acquired the storyline that agriculture was an undiscovered behemoth of an field ripe for disruption technologically.” 

Though noting there was “a bit of hubris” in the expense community’s state of mind, Graff details to AgFunder’s 2022 report as a indicator of the moments: It pegged foodtech and agtech investments at $52 billion worldwide in 2021, up a whopping 86% over 2020. Agtech is about a third of that, give or get.  

The numbers depend, of training course, on what you depend: Most agtech can be classified as biotech, chemistry, software or mechanics, but some analysts lump in B2C platforms and other meals-centric versions. “It’s so diffuse, no person understands how massive it is,” Graff claims. “And the undertaking cash investment has certainly surged because that 2013 shot in excess of the bow. These very last 10 yrs have seen a runup of massive scale.” 

How has all of this expense affected farmers and ranchers? “It’s offered them password stress,” laughs Graff.  


Passwords apart, he adds, “I believe what you have found the farmers doing is adopting piecemeal and pretty conservatively relative to what the tech optimists would have liked—or even would want you to consider, particularly if you’re a VC trader thinking about putting cash into them.” 

Regardless, Colorado is at the forefront, with an agtech cluster that’s getting global consideration. Startup Genome rated Denver-Boulder fifth in the environment for its agtech and food items startup ecosystem in its 2022 report on the sector. “I can say confidently we’re a single of the primary hubs in the nation,” notes Graff, who tracks 110 energetic agtech businesses in the point out. “Silicon Valley constantly wins, no make any difference what, but they are successful by much less and a lot less these days.” 

Preserving labor with wi-fi cameras 

And several of Colorado’s ag-focused startups are attaining traction. Choose Barn Owl Tech in Colorado Springs. Founder and CEO Josh Phifer was elevated on livestock ranches in Wyoming and Nebraska. “I grew up with the problems of obtaining belongings distribute out above dozens if not hundreds of square miles,” he claims. 

Right after Phifer served in the U.S. Air Pressure, he saw the chance of working with wi-fi cameras on farms and ranches during his army encounter and introduced Barn Owl in 2016. 

“At a massive farm or ranch, they expend about 30% of their labor practically just checking on factors, driving all over and examining on things,” Phifer claims. “If you have a absolutely deployed established of cameras, you can slice that down by more than 50 percent, so you are preserving 15 to 20 % of your over-all labor. If you grew up in ranching, you know there’s generally far more get the job done to do, so it’s not that we’re replacing labor, we’re just giving the time back to do extra productive and
successful factors.”  

Revenue has been growing at an annual clip of 250% in new a long time, Phifer states, with about 60% of sales going to agricultural customers.  

“Farming has become extremely technological innovation-dependent, every little thing from automatic tractors to GPS-guided fertilizing and planting,” Phifer suggests. “The livestock facet tends to be a very little far more outdated-school. Just by the character of boosting younger animals, it has to be a far more hands-on operation.”


Not that livestock operations do not have more and more progressive selections: Australia-based mostly AgriWebb, presenting livestock ranchers a cloud-based mostly system to take care of their operations, chose Denver more than Austin, Dallas and Salt Lake Town for its North American headquarters in 2020. 

Denver “is the confluence of all of the issues we ended up on the lookout for,” suggests AgriWebb CEO Kevin Baum. “It’s bought a fantastic, thriving and growing technological know-how scene, it is a regional headquarters for so numerous ag firms and associates, it is geographically near where our marketplace is in the middle of the place, it has a hub airport, and it is a excellent place to dwell. It ticked all of our packing containers, and it was not significantly of a competition.”

Baum states livestock ranching has historically been “largely operate by anecdote, which is a concept we have uncovered all all around the environment. Most farms are managed on pen and paper.” 

AgriWebb has acquired traction considering the fact that launching the platform in Australia in late 2015. “There was speedy adoption,” Baum says. “We’ve obtained about 12,000 end users these days. Appropriate now, we’ve obtained about 17.5 million animals on the system, which is 8 times our closest competitor.” 

The initial staff in Denver, Coby Buck is a fifth-technology rancher. His family’s Wray Ranch in northeastern Colorado became an AgriWebb person before long soon after he joined the firm, and it quickly paid dividends. 

“They realized they have been overfeeding their cattle in winter season,” Baum states. “It was just bang! $80,000 in yearly cost savings.” 

That kind of anecdote has been section of the sector for millennia. “Agriculture has been establishing technological know-how since the beginning. It is the original technology. Which is how you retain up,” he says. 

“The up coming wave of that is digital adoption. Info is a device. It is not a alternative. You continue to need to have that farmer, you even now will need that skills, you have to have anyone who is aware what to do with the details.” 


Denver-based mostly author Eric Peterson is the creator of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton Nationwide Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, showcasing to start with-person travelogues covering all the things from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to movie star gone incorrect in Hollywood. Peterson has also a short while ago created about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country snowboarding in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for this kind of publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Day-to-day News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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