ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 197

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Israeli AgTech: Driving innovation to feed the world sustainably

Hundreds of startups are revolutionizing the future of farming, leading the drive for new technology that will feed a hungry future.

Modern Israel’s agricultural ingenuity has impressed the world since it first began to “make the desert bloom” in the 1950s, but as it turns out, Israel has been a global center for farming innovation for much, much longer. In 2015, researchers from Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ben Gurion, and Harvard universities found the oldest evidence for crop cultivation at Ohalo II, an archaeological site on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, from 23,000 years ago. This finding indicates that agriculture developed in Israel a full 12,000 years earlier than researchers had previously estimated that humans began farming.

As today’s world faces a plethora of political, social, and environmental challenges that threaten food supplies, Israel continues to be front and center in developing the agricultural technologies needed to feed a hungry future.

Despite Israel’s unconducive climate, limited arable land mass, and relative water scarcity, Israel produces 95% of its own food and exports high-quality produce around the world.

With its world-renowned agriculture expertise, it’s no surprise that as of January 2023, there are about 500 Israeli AgTech startups developing innovative technology to improve how we grow food:

“Agritech holds the answers to the world’s biggest problems, and Israel’s bustling agritech community is a hotbed of creative solutions. Together, they’re showing us how to crack the code on global challenges in a whole new way.” – Alon Turkaspa, Agriculture & Food Tech Sector Lead @Start-Up Nation Central

Transforming farming practices with Industry 4.0

Also known as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is the ongoing rapid advancement of multiple industries as a result of improved data analytics and new equipment that streamlines and enhances production. Some of the most significant innovations of Industry 4.0 include drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence, all of which have vital applications in the AgTech sector, where they are revolutionizing yield optimization and harvesting methods. No other country besides Israel is producing so much groundbreaking agricultural technology that will help farmers ward off pests, reduce costs, and improve yields.

For example, Tel Aviv-based Bluewhite has developed autonomous tractors and other farm vehicles that can spray, mow, and disc farm fields while collecting data on crops. Farmers can manage their fields remotely, reducing labor costs, limiting health hazards to workers, and improving productivity.

Basmat Tabun-based Edete, meanwhile, is solving another pressing global challenge to farmers: the need to pollinate their crops at the right time. It’s well known that honey bees and other natural pollinators have been in decline for the past several decades, and on top of this, climate change is disrupting the synchronization and male and female blooms in dioecious crops. To solve this problem, the team at Edete has created precision technology to collect natural pollen when it’s available and artificially apply it to crop flowers at the optimal time. Rather than depending on unreliable insect pollinators, which are not only disappearing but subject to a variety of natural temporal and weather-related constraints, Edete’s solution allows farmers to use artificial robotic pollination to ensure crops receive the pollen needed for optimal crop cultivation. Edete’s solution includes harvesting and preserving pollen in a pollen bank and distributing it in orchards and fields as needed.

Outside of the fields themselves, another aspect of Industry 4.0 that is improving agriculture is the use of data-driven insights to improve critical decision-making. For farmers, data can provide insight into crop health, pest control, and irrigation, helping them apply resources more efficiently. For example, Beersheba-based DOTS makes a sensor system that provides real-time soil monitoring, which helps farmers avoid overfertilization, reduce nutrient waste, and protect the environment through reduced pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions.

Rehovot-based Lavie Bio is also using Industry 4.0 practices with its proprietary computational predictive technology that develops natural biostimulants and biopesticides that farmers can use to enhance plant performance and protect plants from pests.

Advancing sustainable farming through precision agriculture

Agriculture contributes to multiple environmental issues including climate change (agriculture is responsible for 13-21% of global greenhouse gas emissions), chemical pollution, water waste, and habitat destruction. There are several Israeli startups working to make this industry more sustainable with solutions that allow for more precise practices and reduced effects on the environment.

For example, Mazor-based Groundwork is working to reduce carbon emissions and pollution from excess fertilizer application. The company’s mycorrhizal inoculants help plants absorb water and nutrients more efficiently, which reduces the amount of fertilizer farmers need to apply, which would turn into runoff that pollutes groundwater.

Pesticides are another resource that farmers often overuse due to imprecise application and the increasing resistance of common pests to conventional insecticides. Their overuse has significant environmental impacts, including serious hazards to human health. Ramat Gan-based DriftSense’s software solution leverages data to help growers spray pesticides more efficiently. With advanced analytics, farmers can make better decisions regarding spray times and quantities required.

Precision agriculture isn’t just for vegetable crops. Beekeeping also requires refined husbandry to keep bees healthy and happy while they pollinate crops and produce honey. The ongoing global decline in bee populations has made this need ever more pressing. Beit HaEmek-based Beewise has created a solution in the form of an autonomous beehive that uses AI-powered precision robotics to manage all beekeeping activities. Its automated BeeHomes are solar-powered, climate- and humidity-controlled, allow for automated harvesting, and can even alert apiculturists when their hive is likely preparing to swarm, preventing injuries to both humans and bees.

Enhancing crop quality with genetic and synthetic biology

While much of Israeli AgTech focuses on improving cultivation methods, there is another blossoming subsector focused on improving the resilience and productivity of crops themselves on the genetic level. Startups specializing in genetics and synthetic biology are developing new crop varieties with longer shelf life, lower nutrient demands, improved nutritional value, increased pest resilience, and higher yields.

Tel Chai-based ProJini Agchem has a molecular target: protein-protein interactions. The company has a discovered a platform to identify challenging pest targets, and is using the findings to develop new pesticides that act at a molecular level, which has the potential to obviate the need for conventional biocides that cannot effectively target pests and pose the risk of serious harm to human and ecological health.

Seed enhancement is key for improved crop quality, so it’s no surprise that this is the focus of several Israeli startups. Givat Hen-based BetterSeeds uses genome-editing technology based on CRISPR to design seeds and cultivate seeds in the lab that yield better crops. Traditionally genetic crop modification takes years, but with BetterSeeds’s technology, new varieties can be created in a few years instead of a few decades. The company’s genetically modified soybeans, tomatoes, and cucumbers will help farmers to maintain large, consistent harvests regardless of unpredictable conditions, and they’re even developing an allergen-free peanut strain.

Kfar Vitkin-based Salicrop has another seed enhancement technology specifically focused on improving plant resilience to climate change. The company’s crop strains are equipped with the genetic innovations they’ll need to cope with environmental stresses including excess salinity, drought, erratic temperature fluctuations, and other novel agronomic challenges. The effects of climate change will be unavoidable in the coming decades, but Salicrop is helping to ensure global food security.

“In the subtle shifts we make within the seeds lies the potential for a vast influence on how the world nourishes itself. At the forefront of this endeavor, Israel stands as a beacon of leadership.” – Alon Turkaspa

Genetic modification technology is not only relevant to the crops themselves; they can also be used to reduce the nuisance of weeds. Nes Ziona-based WeedOUT, for instance, is developing a synthetic, species-specific pollen that fertilizes weed flowers and causes them to produce sterile seeds. This totally innovative and nontoxic method of weed control will allow farmers to eradicate the invasive weeds that compete with their crops while causing zero harm to adjacent ecosystems or human health.

Combating food waste with efficiency improvements

Up to 45% of food produced worldwide is wasted, largely due to inefficiencies along the supply chain that leads to spoilage. Several Israeli AgTech companies have developed unique solutions that help food producers and other stakeholders manage freshness at different stages of the supply chain to extend shelf life.

For example, Kiryat Shmona-based Ripe-Guard and Rishon Lezion-based Clarifruit have both created technology platforms for measuring the ripeness of fruits and vegetables. Ripe-Guard has a shelf life prediction system that helps growers, distributors, and retailers get accurate timeline predictions of when produce will ripen and spoil, helping users make better-informed distribution decisions. Clarifruit, meanwhile, uses computer vision technology to analyze images of produce to streamline quality control processes.

Shilat-based NOF Natural Offset Farming tackles shelf life from another angle. NOF has developed a cooling solution that uses carbon dioxide as its energy source with no need for electrical infrastructure. The technology can be used to cool greenhouses and keep crops cool post-harvest in storage. Not only does the cooling improve the shelf life of produce; it has the potential to create a new industrial demand for carbon capture and utilization technology, which is being fielded as a part of the solution to growing greenhouse gas emissions. Neolithics® is an AI agri-tech firm committed to sustainability, reducing food waste, and ensuring produce quality through its optical sensing AI-software, Crystal.eye. The nondestructive, real-time analysis technology integrates seamlessly into production environments, improving accuracy and productivity while contributing to sustainable agriculture.

Start-Up Nation Central: Cultivating Israeli AgTech for global benefit

The Israeli AgTech ecosystem is ripe with innovative solutions to tackle today’s biggest agricultural challenge. Start-Up Nation Central is a nonprofit organization focused on bringing this innovation to the international stage by connecting global companies looking for innovative solutions for their business challenges with Israeli tech companies. With a platform that nurtures growth and global partnerships, Israeli AgTech companies can implement their solutions around the world, solving global challenges and strengthening Israel’s economy.

To learn more about Israel’s unique position to address agricultural challenges, visit Start-Up Nation Central.

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