Posted on October 12, 2022, 5:36 pmUpdated 13 Oct 2022 12:05
“Last year, agriculture, which was off the radar of finance, became an attractive subject for her,” Maximilien Rouer cannot believe. The entrepreneur, who has been working hard on new agricultural business models for twenty years, now believes that the salvation of the peasant world will depend on technology. And therefore, start-ups financed by funds or large companies.
Responsible for the regenerative economy at the insurer’s AXA Climate subsidiary, Maximilien Rouer particularly highlights this year’s investment decision for the Tikehau Capital fund with Unilever and AXA. Together they will commit up to €1 billion to green agriculture, including €300 million in equity. Two-thirds of the amount will be invested in stakes in companies that develop solutions, such as biocontrols, that is, molecules that make it possible to ecologically combat agricultural pests. The other third of the investments will be allocated to projects to modernize the sectors, on the farm, for example.
Manager Capagro, which invests in agtech and foodtech start-ups, has just launched a second fund worth €200 million.
The Ministry of Agriculture counted 215 start-ups and reference companies in the area of agricultural and food technologies. France also claims the place of first European country in terms of fundraising for these two areas and fifth in the world. At the beginning of the year, France took nine young people to CES, the innovation fair in Las Vegas. Naïo Technologies, specialist in agricultural robotics, Cearitis in the area of biocontrol and Agrove in urban agriculture, for example.
La Ferme Digitale, an association that brings together 120 innovative companies in the sector, confirms the current dynamism. “Over the past three months, we’ve exploded fundraising scores like never before in our six years of existence,” says Karine Cailleaux, Project Manager. Six agritech startups have raised €40 million in the last two months and other major fundraisers will be announced later in the year. The appetite of investors is explained, in particular, by the fact that they liked impact companies very much. However, our start-ups are very focused on agricultural greening. »
The Ile-de-France developer of vertical urban farms Jungle raised €42 million at the start of the year. Lille’s Sencrop and its precision weather forecast found $18 million (the same number of euros), versus $10 million for Javelot and its storage silo control system. It’s not all rosy, however: the urban farm Agricool was put into receivership at the end of 2021.
For Maximilien Rouer, these innovations and these new funders could respond to two problems in agriculture: the lack of means and the crisis of vocations. The new technologies of agriculture could initially attract a new generation of more modern peasants. A way to make work sexier and above all relieve the exhausting work of the fields and barn.
As for the lack of means, until now it has prevented the numerous local initiatives from developing on a large scale. Many innovative business models have been locally tested for a long time. Short sales channels were the first to be able to re-internalize part of the margin that is absorbed by traditional distribution channels. According to Fazenda Digital, one in five producers and many stores and canteens have already short-circuited their feet.
They take many forms: Amap, agricultural vending machines, rural milk vending machines. New small distributors concerned about the remuneration of producers like Terroir d’Avenir in Paris or very concerned about customer service like Grand Frais also showed up. Direct selling sites proliferated during the pandemic. Another practice developed over the last ten years, on-farm processing has inspired many farms. Manufacture of ice cream and yoghurts in the farmers, confection of local fries, preserves, etc.
But for Maximilien Rouer, the volumes sold remain ridiculous and these practices are accessible only to the most enterprising farmers and within privileged consumption areas: resorts, peri-urban areas. “70% of what is consumed by the French is produced by 300 companies, 70% multinationals, and distributed en masse”, recalls Maximilien Rouer.
In a report produced for the State, Fazenda Digital pointed out another major cultural obstacle to the dissemination of innovations on farms. “The return times expected by finance are not compatible with those of agriculture and the annual harvest. We are closer to health cycles and we are trying to make investors aware of them”, insists Karine Cailleaux.