The consumer demands for year-round fresh produce brings challenges to the specialty crop market in areas including storage, labor and sensitivity to weather extremes. We asked innovators and investors: what new technologies and solutions are being put forward to support specialty crop growers, where are the greatest pressure points for the industry and how do we bring more investment into this space?

World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit - Speaker - Vonnie Estes“Innovators are responding to changes in consumer demand for year-round fruit, a desire for improved convenience, more nutrient-dense food, decreasing food waste and climate change. We are seeing some new innovations coming our way: new breeding methods like gene editing are important tools to meet all of these demands (Pairwise).  Robotics are improving in speciality crops for harvest aids and precision weed control (Burro, Future Acres, Verdant Robotics). Biologicals for use in pest control and crop nutrition are reducing inputs and increasing quality of crops (Boost Biomes, Marrone Bio).

In the past, most start-ups have focused on the large broad acre crops because of margins and scale and investor push. Investors and entrepreneurs are starting to see there is financial, nutritional and health value in speciality crops and far fewer government subsidies. This is the place to look if we want to make an impact on health and disease like type-2 diabetes. Another innovation for corn yield doesn’t help that.

IFPA is working to bring technology to the fresh produce space. We will be showcasing our new accelerator program in San Francisco to bring technology from the broader ag sector, other outside industries and companies from multiple regions into the global fresh produce industry. Many start-ups in this space cannot fit the typical VC model (long R&D timelines and high-capital to scale) so we need to look at other models like non-dilutive funding (SBIR) and mission-driven family offices with longer fund horizons. Cooperates also play a big role here with programs like Leaps by Bayer to help mentor and fund companies that have longer R&D timelines.” Vonnie Estes, VP Technology, IFPA

Nolan Paul - Yamaha Motor Ventures - World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit“Consumer preference for fresh, clean and high-quality produce is driving increased investment activity for solutions that are both disintermediating, as well as integrating, one of the most fragmented value chains. Indoor farming is clearly the most prominent example of disintermediation within specialty crops. And while one must wonder if there are enough people on the planet to consume the glut of leafy greens that will theoretically be coming to market in the coming years, certainly the transformational opportunity is obvious.

It’s also exciting to see significant investment finally flow into solutions that are creating value by integrating the siloes of the specialty crop supply chain and connecting the farm to the grocer and consumer. These technologies are driving better growing practices and inventory management decisions and incentivizing stakeholders to prioritize product quality, product consistency and sustainability.” Nolan Paul, Partner, YAMAHA MOTOR VENTURES

“As the climate crisis worsen, we have the responsibility to innovate faster and smarter. We need to accelerate our effort to develop more resilient food supply chains to withstand the growing population while improving our environmental footprint. The Dole Sunshine Company is committed to making nutritious food more acceptable, more accessible, and more affordable for 1B people by 2025 while reducing our GHG emissions and delivering more value to all stakeholders of our value chain. We need solutions from both the private and public sectors to make this happen. Collaborations like our partnership with Clarifruit helping towards reducing fruit waste across our operations should be commonplace. Such alliances are bound to have a positive multiplier effect across industries and applications.

I also see a burning need to digitalize our agriculture practices to support its transformation toward a more sustainable food system. It goes from the soiltech platform delivering functional analysis of soil microbiome for regenerative agriculture to farm management system optimizing our inputs and improving our soil health.” Barbara Guerpillon, Global Head, DOLE VENTURES

Matias Viel, CEO, BEEFLOW“There is a need to better understand the contribution of ecosystem services. There has been a great deal of energy expended on research and innovation regarding irrigation, fertilization, seed and plant genetics, but ecosystem services, like pollination or pest control, have largely been overlooked. Take pollination for instance. There is a lot of knowledge that has been developed in academia around bee biology, bee behavior and pollination ecology that is not being applied today in agriculture.We are bringing knowledge out of the lab and into the fields, where it can benefit us all. We are further developing that knowledge and turning it into products and technologies that can be used to enhance pollination, help bees thrive and help farmers produce more with less. Beeflow is building a bridge between academia and industry by partnering with the best scientists in the world to develop solutions that can be tested and applied to agriculture. We provide pollination services for growers that help maximize crop potential. This was an untapped opportunity until we initiated this path almost 6 years ago.

At Beeflow, we’ve developed a nature-based technology platform that helps growers increase their fruit-set and fruit size by enhancing bees’ performance while pollinating crops. During the last 4 years, we performed field trials in the US around crops like almonds, blueberries, raspberries and kiwifruit that have shown an increase of between 20-60% in crop yields. This results in an ROI that varies among crops from 320-750%.” Matias Viel, CEO, BEEFLOW

“The growers we’re working with are seeing an average ROI of 3x. Growers use our platform to get real-time performance metrics for their operations on a single dashboard. This transparency drives accountability, which in turn, allows them to establish KPIs for their teams’ activities. That’s how they end up covering an average of 25% more acres per shift–and with greater accuracy–to achieve 3x ROI. Drawing from data across our hundreds of thousands of managed acres, we also empower growers with industry performance benchmarks so they can understand how they measure up relative to similar operations.” Boaz Bachar, CEO, FIELDIN

Our current food system needs to evolve to address the challenges of modern life, such as the need for greater access to healthy, more convenient food, and driving more sustainable solutions that consumers demand. We embrace our mission to build a healthier world through better fruits and vegetables at Pairwise. By using innovative technologies like gene editing, we are removing barriers to access and consumption of healthy food, and bringing sustainable solutions to the very real challenges facing us today, not just in specialty crops but across the plant-based economy.” Ian Miller, Chief Development Officer, PAIRWISE


Vonnie, Nolan, Barbara, Matias, Boaz and Ian will share more insights at the summit this March on the main stage and in their dedicated breakout sessions.

Connect with the teams and discover latest projects via the exhibition and networking breaks. See the full program at , and register now to secure your access.