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NU Tech Roundtable: Dynamic change coming in Ag Tech

By Allan Maurer, NCBiotech Writer

The next five years will see more dynamic changes in agriculture technology than seen in the last 25 years, said John Dombrosky, CEO of the Ag Tech Accelerator at the 8th annual NU Tech Roundtable.

Dombrosky, who keynoted the event presented by Nagoya University at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, discussed “food as a value source connected to human dignity.” He said four ongoing trends will result in the dynamic changes to agriculture tech:

  • Information technology is reaching a tipping point. It will provide critical information to farmers and researchers.
  • The rise of the next generation farmer. The average age of an American farmer is 61.5 and a new generation of farmers will do things differently.
  • Consumers demanding more transparency, asking questions about how their food is grown and where it comes from.
  • Democratization of enabling biotechnology such as CRISPR, which makes gene editing easy and affordable.

Agriculture faces huge problems, Dombrosky said. They include health effects, water scarcity, CO2 emissions, biodiversity risk, soil erosion, and climate change. The UN says it is a $1.2 trillion human problem.

“As an entrepreneur,” he added, “I love that there are big problems to solve.” But to solve them, he said, “We need the best and the brightest in agriculture.” That includes innovative thinking from both large corporations and startup entrepreneurs.

Dombrosky noted that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a budget of $158 billion, “Basic agricultural research seems comparatively underfunded compared to the huge problems and gigantic challenges we’re trying to solve. Public funding does not appear to be set up to help us out.”

On the other hand, he said, “We have a consolidating industry that will drive greater innovation.” Instead of developing everything via internal processes as in the past, now, most are developed through externally developed collaborations. That means large corporations look outside for technology, helping start new companies and engaging with them in new ways.

The Ag Tech Accelerator, Dombrosky said, is “a unique alchemy” that offers startups access to critical resources, great facilities and staff, and connections with venture investors and corporate and university relationships.

It helps ag tech startups raise anywhere from $250,000 in seed money to the $10 million raised to launch synthetic chemical company Boragen, its first portfolio company.

“Bring your technology, bring your ideas,” Dombrosky said. “We have a team, access to capital and we’re ready to build something special. We have an amazing road ahead of us in agriculture.”

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