Ritter Agribusiness is helping to bridge a gap between technology companies and farms by providing testing grounds for startups associated with the AgLaunch initiative.
Ritter Ag, based in the eastern Arkansas town of Marked Tree, owns about 32,000 acres of Mississippi Delta farmland and manages another 16,000 acres, said Kevin Wright, president, providing a diverse landscape on which tech startup companies can test their farm innovations in fields like precision agriculture, robotics, biologic-based pest control and supply chain integrity.
AgLaunch is a Memphis-based program that aims to connect agricultural researchers, entrepreneurs, corporations, nonprofit organizations, investors and farmers, in order to address farm and food supply chain needs, according to its website. It is run through a partnership between the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and focuses on companies within the U.S. Delta region. AgLaunch’s programs include the AgLaunch Accelerator, a three-month agriculture tech startup accelerator program.
Investment in farming innovation was a $3.2 billion industry in 2016. That’s according to AgFunder’s annual AgTech Investing Report and shows a decrease from an all-time high in 2015 at $4.6 billion.
It will soon announce its second cohort, and those six companies have to potential to receive up to $50,000 collectively in funding, business development support, mentorship and farm trials May 1-Aug. 10.
The AgLaunch Accelerator is funded in part through a grant from Launch Tennessee. More information is available by emailing email@example.com.
AgLaunch also hosts events the Startup Station pitch competition, an all-day pitch contest held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, which hosts more than 400 exhibitors and 20,000 farmers, according to the AgLaunch website.
The latest Startup Station event was in early March, and startups pitched to expert panels comprised of farmers, investors and corporate partners. Wright served on the panel for the March event.
Ritter Ag became involved with AgLaunch about two years ago, as lead participant in the organization’s Farmer Network.
“The relationship has evolved around the need for tech companies, at all stages, to have a better understanding of the pain points that today’s producers’ experience,” Wright said.
In addition to serving as a resource for testing with a certain land and crop mix, Ritter Ag also provides “critical feedback” to the startups in relation to product development, marketing and distribution channels, Wright said.
Arkansas State University has also partnered with AgLaunch, said Ty Keller, director of the program, A-State Innovate. For its part, ASU will provide access to its maker space, machine and wood shop and lab for companies chosen by AgLaunch to develop their technology. Researchers and entrepreneurs tied to the ASU also have participated in AgLaunch’s startup pitch competitions.
Agriculture is an important industry in Arkansas. About 45,000 farms (latest estimate, in 2012) brought in $1.3 billion in net income for 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.