American agriculture has an importing problem, and with data in hand, the new AI startup, Inevitable Tech is targeting the issue.
According to Inevitable, about 70% of the vine crops consumed in the United States are imported, typically trucked and flown thousands of miles. Even the seed and seedlings farmers use are mostly imported, which as we know, has inevitable impacts on the environment, with the U.S. having the highest emissions from imports and exports of any country in the world.
In addition to the emissions of transportation, importing crops and seeds in this way exposes them to the dangers of pests that can wipe out the entire harvest, further contributing to food waste. So in order to decrease import costs and risks, farmers turn to propagation: the process of creating new plants from existing ones.
The USDA has regulations around importing propagative material, however, the reality is, according to David Lee, the former chief financial officer and chief operations officer of plant-based meat giant Impossible Foods, making seedling production more local could vastly reduce the risks of importation.
So, a team of agriculture tech veterans, including Lee, joined forces recently to launch Inevitable Tech a new agriculture startup using a combo of AI, automation, and plant sciences which it says will help growers manage plant health and overall operations while boosting profitability and food quality.
Based out of Lockhart, Texas, the new startup’s first product will be a “Clean Propagation” system to streamline the process of propagation and “ensure healthy seeds and robust seedling growth,” while reducing the growing volatility of the ag industry associated with climate change and shrinking the land, water, and energy footprint of crops.
According to Lee, “Inevitable is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help farmers harness cutting-edge technology to realize urgently needed efficiencies and economies of scale – and we've already started working with partners in controlled environment ag, the most data-rich environment in farming.”
Inevitable’s first partner is a controlled environment agriculture company in Austin, Texas, Revol Greens, which produces lettuce and other greens in high-tech greenhouses using fewer natural resources and no harsh chemicals.
In addition, the brand-new startup already has a development agreement with AppHarvest, which Lee was formerly the president of. AppHarvest is a B Corp.-certified Appalachia-based sustainable food company with 165 acres of “high-tech” indoor farms delivering salad greens, strawberries, cucumbers, and tomatoes to the top 25 grocery store chains, restaurants, and food service outlets in North America.
Partnerships like this are crucial, as currently, the U.S. imports the bulk of its tomato, cucumber, and pepper plants from Mexico, and in 2020, accounted for 70% of the country’s fresh vegetable volume.
However, Inevitable’s first two partnerships are only the beginning, as the startup says its hardware and software can be used on any type of farm.
“Even the most advanced CEA (controlled environment agriculture) farms are looking for a technology partner with the focus and expertise to deliver a transformational effect on their business – from labor costs to quality control, from propagation to harvest,” Lee said in a statement.
Plus, the company doesn’t plan to end or begin at propagation.
“It is just a data acquisition strategy,” Lee told the agriculture business publication AgFunder. “The aim is not to be a high-quality, high-tech seedling company,” he said. “It’s to be AI for ag.”
“Right now, everyone’s talking about artificial intelligence. The hard reality is, while AI is real, it’s not functional unless you have a big data set.”
With its propagation data acquisition model, Inevitable is essentially making a digital map of farms that is dynamic and constantly evolving. This map could be used for a variety of applications, from identifying the most productive farm workers and rewarding them to predicting issues due to adverse environmental conditions.
“And while we have grand aspirations, we aren’t startups of yesteryear that talk about that grand aspiration without having a very clear area of focus and business each day,” Lee said.
Thus, Inevitable is also investable, and according to the startup it has already raised funds from top investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, At One Ventures, Zero Carbon Partners, R7 Partners, Amplify Partners, Pathbreaker Ventures, and Eniac Ventures, among others.
The VIP list of investors is no surprise, as Lee previously led the plant-based meat pioneer, Impossible’s 2016 commercial launch, scaling the company from pre-revenue to more than $300M of annualized revenue, and was also the CFO of Zynga, a $2.3 billion interactive entertainment public company.
In addition to Lee, the team consists of people who have spent time across technology, transportation, energy, and plant-science sectors, coming together to, as the website reads, focus on “agriculture as the most important lever our planet can pull.”