Agriculture and EnvironmentSpace Tech

From Australia to outer space, three Australian entrepreneurs are pioneering the next generation of unique farming technologies

Many are looking to creative ways to improve the world’s overburdened food supply as population growth and the availability of agricultural resources on the planet become more limited.

Many of the most cutting-edge unique farming system ideas are being developed in Australia, and they are now receiving more attention and funding thanks to the AgriFutures growAG. platform, which links entrepreneurs, researchers, and investors to address critical issues in the world food system.

The Gaia Project Australia, an indoor farming platform, the biotech company ARC Ento Tech, and indoor farming platform InvertiGro are three Australian startups to watch. All three are now listed on growAG.

The trio illustrates just how much variety and capability can be found within the novel farming systems category, and each solution bears potential use cases far beyond the borders of Australia, from major metropolises to developing regions to outer space.

Why we require fresh farming techniques

About one third of world emissions are caused by food systems. A significant factor in soil erosion, deforestation, and biodiversity loss is industrial agriculture.

The world population is projected to reach 10 billion people by the year 2050, which would increase the need for food production at a time when resources (land and water) are becoming increasingly scarce.

Some of these issues can be resolved by novel farming techniques. Startups using insects as a source of protein, for instance, might lessen the demand for increased protein production worldwide. Similarly, indoor farming techniques could improve food security, especially in nations without access to arable land. Along with innovations in conventional agricultural systems, several of these alternatives are currently being grown in Australia.


worldwide decentralised production

A fantastic example of a biotech firm using the black soldier fly to recycle organic and inorganic waste acquired directly from landfills is ARC Ento Tech, a company situated in New South Wales.

The startup’s goal is to reduce the vast global surplus of municipal solid waste, also known as garbage, by using cutting-edge production techniques at the landfills themselves.

The technique uses black army flies to ingest organic waste, including food scraps, and transform it into larvae that can be utilised as feed and fertiliser.

With this technology, indigestible organic waste (wood, rubber, paper) and plastic may also be processed into a high-carbon reductant for industrial usage utilising a patent-pending technical method.

Ramon Atayde, the chairman and managing director of ARC Ento Tech, tells AFN, “We don’t see waste the way we used to. We truly have a secondary supply of raw materials or commodities since we now recognise it as a resource. We don’t go outside and constantly take from the natural world. all we’ve ingested has provided us with all we need. That is the concept’s circularity.

The decentralised structure of ARC Ento Tech’s system is a crucial aspect of its strategy.

We decentralise the system and place plants at the dump instead of going to a centralised plant, he claims. By doing so, we may cut costs on logistics, which now represents the largest cost component for most organisations.

He thinks this strategy is essential to the startup’s capacity to scale its innovative system on a global scale; ARC Ento Tech is now looking for AUD $10 million ($6.6 million) in financing to do this. The startup’s approach can be used anywhere in the world, making it equally effective in underdeveloped countries as it is in Australia.

“We’ve created a system that enables us to create a self-sustaining business, and our model works anywhere,” claims Atayde. “Our model works in Australia, the US, Europe, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Africa.” The model is effective because it lowers food prices.

“Scalable but ultimately modular”

InvertiGro, a Sydney-based company, is working to provide a technological solution for controlled-environment agriculture (CEA).

About ten years ago, when commercially available vertical farming technology was scarce, the startup was founded. The first idea included for building the technology as well as cultivating the plants.

After a few years, co-founder Paul Millet tells AFN, “we realised we were solving problems others were going to have to solve.” “Everyone would be attempting to solve problems simultaneously and just hide the intellectual property if we were all playing a game here. We simply couldn’t see how that paradigm could be maintained.

InvertiGro changed its business model and started creating technology “so that people everywhere could pick up this technology at any scale, literally from micro to mega farm, and deploy it successfully.”

Produce may be grown using vertical farming systems that InvertiGro designs, builds, and supports for other businesses to buy and utilise. The hardware-software system is simple for customers to integrate into their current business processes, and they can use the data generated to optimise plant development.

Currently, InvertiGro is funding AUD $12 million ($8 million) in a Series A investment to hasten the commercialization of its technology.

Because it is modular, clients can customise it to meet their needs.

A food shop, for instance, might put a small model right inside the store, while a conventional farmer looking to diversify might put a sizable vertical farm adjacent to their current field operations.

Given that farms might theoretically reside anywhere, according to Millet, this modular component is essential for achieving supply chain security.

“If we get the flexibility in our model to enable others, then we believe we’re onto something that can literally be scaled and installed everywhere to solve this problem,” he claims.

The InvertiGro system, in his words, is “small, modular, but ultimately scalable.”

Like ARC Ento Tech, Millet thinks that scalable solutions are essential for achieving global production growth and food security.

to feed the Earth, space-based plant growth

An innovative technology for indoor cultivation has also been created by The Gaia Project Australia.

Nadun Hennayaka, the company’s founder and CEO, claims that transplanting is the most cutting-edge method of growing [specialty] crops. In order to develop plants to a particular age and then transfer them to another platform, you need various tunnels or boards.

Robotics are used to accomplish this frequently, albeit at a high expense. One example is given by Hennayaka, who states, “that’s about half a million dollars for a single lane robot to do transplant in one day.”

Other issues with using human labour for transplants include difficulty locating workers and dealing with contamination. “If you use humans for transplant, you can’t control what they do outside,” he asserts.

Gaia’s answer was to prevent the necessity for transplantation in the first place, not to use robots or people.

“We constructed a telescopic channel system that initially requires less space between plants. That channel itself grows as the plants do. Hennayaka continues, “This enables plants to grow at a higher density throughout the course of their growth cycle.” In turn, this can reduce producers’ operating expenses by half while increasing plant yields.

Gaia Project received the NASA International Innovation Award in 2021 for this clever concept, and in 2022, Gaia built a working prototype system for NASA.

The Intelligent Crop production Module, a modular leafy green production system that can mimic plants’ natural growth cycles, is the result of ongoing work with NASA.

Hennayaka says, “If you can develop technology that works well in space, that’s a great solution for us to push for terrestrial uses as well.”

Gaia’s technique isn’t limited to outer space; indoor growers like greenhouses and vertical farms can also use it. With this method, Gaia can adapt existing indoor farms, lowering costs and increasing yields. Additionally, it assists farmers who want to create brand-new CEA businesses from the ground up.

The Gaia system ultimately aims to reduce costs for growers, boost yields, and work together with others in the CEA sector to create something that is “proven, tested, and good to go,” according to Hennayaka.

Through the AgriFutures growAG. platform, Gaia is presently looking for a $2 million investment. The company will be able to use the funds to extend its operations, engineering, and commercial manufacturing from Melbourne to numerous markets in Australia and abroad, giving the system actual scale.

Other innovative farming techniques

On the growAG. platform, there are more than 80 opportunities looking for partners and/or investors, including a number of other entrepreneurs building innovative farming systems for high-value niche markets.

Australian Vanilla Plantations, a business using geodesic dome greenhouse technology to scale up vanilla production cost-effectively, is one of them. Aquatic AI is automating aquaculture operations in the meanwhile to more effectively produce marron, a high-end seafood product with a profitable export market.

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