By Komal Patel - Tenacious Ventures
There is an inexorable shift toward lower chemical intensity production in agriculture. Many consumers, food companies, and increasingly farmers are all looking for ways to reduce or remove chemical inputs entirely. Beyond meeting the requirements of certification schemes (e.g., Organic), the transition away from conventional chemical inputs is being driven by regulatory shifts, market requirements, premium pricing opportunities, sustainability programs, and the economic benefits of reduced input costs.
But, the transition away from conventional chemical products to alternative solutions, such as variable rate application of synthetics, combined use of synthetics & biologicals, or replacement of synthetics with biologicals, won’t be easy.
A successful paradigm shift will require both significant behavior change, as well as regional or community-based management practices; but these propositions are likely to face resistance, as they feel risky and uncomfortable for growers. Our fifth investment, RapidAIM, is enabling the transition away from conventional pesticides by providing large-scale, real-time pest analytics that gives growers and their service providers the confidence they need to make the transition.
We’re thrilled to join existing investor Main Sequence Ventures in backing RapidAIM. Here are our investments notes.
What they do: digital pest surveillance and management
RapidAIM, a CSIRO spin-out, is a Brisbane-based digital pest analytics and management company with strong scientific underpinnings. The RapidAIM platform consists of two components: (1) a patented, novel, low-power sensor that enables real-time pest detection and monitoring; and (2) a suite of analytics services that provide data flows and actionable insights related to pest pressure and management actions.
RapidAIM currently provides a subscription service for two main use cases: regional pest surveillance, and on-farm border security. The regional pest surveillance service enables customers to get regular updates about when and where pests have been detected in their local areas. This enables growers, advisors, and biosecurity agencies to monitor pest pressures in their regions in real-time to assess emerging risks and mobilize rapid responses to outbreaks. The border security service allows users, namely farmers, to detect pests in their fields in real-time, empowering them to make informed and timely pest management decisions (i.e., where and when to act) and monitor the impacts of management decisions (i.e., whether control is working).
RapidAIM’s first market offering is focused on detection and control of fruit fly, a leading horticultural pest, and the company is piloting additional offerings, such as codling moth and fall armyworm, to serve both row crop and horticultural markets in the future.
Why we love it: enabling transformation through large-scale pest analytics
Current pest control practices largely rely on the use of chemical insecticides as a blunt instrument: wide-scale spraying conducted ‘just in case’, as an insurance mechanism giving growers peace of mind that they are protected. These practices are rational and understandable given that pests are difficult to detect, highly mobile, and can cause severe damage before they are even noticed. Chemical spraying gives growers control and peace of mind in managing pest-related risks on their farms--regardless of what is going on around them, they can confidently protect their crops. The end result, however, is that chemical insecticides are overused, resulting in otherwise avoidable costs for growers and significant ecological impacts.
Reducing or replacing conventional chemical spraying is not just about innovations in effective and sustainable control methods, but also about overcoming the psychology and behavior change challenges to enable adoption of these new technologies. RapidAIM’s large-scale, real-time monitoring capabilities solve for these adoption barriers--and this is what sets the company apart from other digital pest detection solutions on the market.
In order to support any change in pest management practices, growers will need assurance that they won’t be left exposed to major risks. RapidAIM’s proprietary low-cost, ultra low-power sensors mean that it can roll out its platform from regions to farms, giving producers and crop advisors the confidence to track and respond to pest pressures both within and beyond the borders of individual farms. The RapidAIM platform provides verification of results in real-time as producers change their practices, giving them the proof that they need to adopt new technologies and the confidence that they can respond to any emerging threats in a time-sensitive manner.
RapidAIM also addresses the coordination and trust challenges that accompany biological pesticides, which can require very different application methods and the implementation of regional control strategies. For example, technologies such as mating disruption cannot be successfully implemented by any one grower. The pest risk that any individual grower faces would also depend on the control strategies employed by their neighbors--as pests are not limited by farm boundaries. By providing information about pest pressures at scale, RapidAIM can help build confidence in regional management approaches by giving growers real-time information on pest activity beyond their individual properties.
While RapidAIM’s solution has initially been targeted to growers, crop advisors, and biosecurity agencies, the future ambition is to also serve corporate crop protection providers who will need to build confidence in their new, biological product lines. As the biological pesticide market matures, these companies will be uniquely served by RapidAIM’s platform as a tool to collect product performance data and to provide growers the assurance they require to trial and adopt new products at scale-- an end-to-end solution helping farmers prepare, protect, and prove that control is working.
A powerhouse team, combining scientific rigor with commercial capabilities
RapidAIM’s co-founders, Nancy Schellhorn, Darren Moore, and Laura Jones, met while working on pest management and biosecurity topics at CSIRO. The team brings an incredible depth of scientific and technical expertise to the design of evidence-based, effective pest management solutions. But that’s not all the team brings to the table: they’ve demonstrated the hustle and savviness required to get traction in the market. To date, RapidAIM has deployed over 500 sensors over more than 450 km2, serving 170 end users with timely, actionable pest management insights- and they are only getting started. We believe they are the team that will unlock a more sustainable, profitable future for pest management.