FarmLab seeking investors for Series A funding round to scale tech globally
As former Royal Australian Air Force officers, Sam Duncan and Co-founder Shahriar Jamshidi have reaped the rewards of applying the RAAF’s READIT values to their flourishing startup, FarmLab.
The Armidale based startup is elevating its approach to help the world’s farmers better manage soil carbon through improved data and software systems and seeking investors to scale its technology into the US and Europe.
Respect, excellence, agility, dedication, integrity and teamwork have been guiding principles on FarmLab’s agritech journey, which culminated in $750,000 in seed funding in October 2021 led by venture capital firm Artesian, through its GrainInnovate partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), and private investor Prove Group.
COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY: GrainInnovate - Agtech Venture Capital Fund
Farmlab tackling challenges in the measurement of soil carbon
“FarmLab is solving one of the fundamental challenges in the measurement of soil carbon which is a key component driving the uptake of soil carbon projects globally, and we’ve been impressed by the founding team,” said Artesian Director, Robert Williams.
“Our $50 million GrainInnovate fund has a broad mandate to invest in technologies that have the potential to drive the future profitability of Australian grain growers, and we think FarmLab is positioned at the nexus of agronomy and sustainability.”
Offsetting the impacts of climate change
Twelve years in the RAAF provided Sam Duncan with the opportunity to see first-hand the impact of climate change in South Sudan (East Africa) and the Middle East, which sparked a desire to find a way to offset the impacts on people living in third world countries.
While investigating the potential for better managing soils to mitigate C02 emissions, Sam watched a TED talk by holistic grazing proponent, Allan Savory, who believes that grasslands hold the potential to sequester enough atmospheric carbon to reverse climate change.
“Allan’s principles sounded so sensible that I thought ‘Why aren’t we all doing this?’ and one of the reasons was a lack of data. At that stage soil tests weren’t digitised, they were quite archaic, and we decided that if farmers had better soil data, they’d manage carbon better.”
In 2016 Sam and Shahriar started FarmLab with the aim of creating a mobile app to enable farmers and agronomists to better sample, analyse and map soil information, using the most advanced soil science and digital soil mapping techniques.
SproutX helps accelerate FarmLab’s path to success
In May 2020 FarmLab was selected alongside four other early stage food and agritech startups to participate in the SproutX Accelerator Program. The six-month national accelerator specialises in world-class commercialisation support and catalyses key investor connections to help founders drive business growth and positive impact. This unique experience led to FarmLab’s first investment partner.
Sam explained, “From June to December we went back to the fundamentals to tease out what we needed to do to get people using it and how the business model could work, and that was when we first formalised investment partnerships with Artesian and GrainInnovate.”
The timing was impeccable. In January 2021, NSW beef producers Wilmot Cattle Company sold around half a million dollars worth of carbon credits in the form of sequestered soil carbon to global tech giant Microsoft, giving FarmLab’s soil sampling and mapping technology a major boost.
Scrutiny leads to improved soil carbon services
“That was the first major sale of carbon credits from grazing land in Australia and it sparked a lot of scrutiny of how the data was collected and the evidence of collection that justified that level of investment,” explained Sam.
“Producers realised they could monetise sustainable management practices into carbon credits and we were deluged with requests from farmers about whether they should do this. That’s when we engaged CiboLabs and the CSIRO to develop the Soil Carbon Offset Report (SCOR).”
SCOR combined CiboLab’s remote sensing data with CSIRO’s LOOC-C app to estimate a farmer’s eligibility for carbon credits according to their land and farming practices, and FarmLab then expanded the model into a Soil Carbon Services Pack.
There are a range of business models in the rural sector for developing soil carbon projects and they require differing levels of effort and support. FarmLab’s core values are to be local and regional, honest and transparent and work with local agronomists and agribusinesses
“The Soil Carbon Services Pack was developed to give agronomists, who have the relationships with farmers, the tools they need to run carbon projects, engage carbon samplers or soil carbon developers, and assist in managing soil for productivity and carbon.”
Seed funding used to scale up infrastructure globally
Sam said the seed funding will be used to further scale up FarmLab’s infrastructure footprint across Australia and New Zealand and into the United States, integrating more testing labs and supporting the simplification of the Australian Clean Energy Regulator’s soil carbon measurement methodology.
The next big step for the company is its funding pitch at the evokeAG. Investor Dinner in Sydney, June 2022, alongside four other investment-ready startups.
“The next phase of our growth will be more exploratory, less risk. We really like Artesian, they’re great people and have been with us from the start, and it’s great to have Prove Group on board and perhaps we could attract another large tech company in the US that has a real climate focus,” said Sam.
“We’re seeing a lot of larger investors in the carbon space now, with Microsoft doing a lot and the big financiers like Rabobank doing a lot of climate investment.”
FarmLab has also joined forces with the Crosslinks Foundation for what Sam describes as a ‘passion project’ – its #1million1billion mission, to have one million farmers sequester one billion tonnes of carbon by 2025.
He’s hoping to reduce the costs for small subsistence farmers to enable them to join carbon projects, and develop an accreditation scheme that will allow farmers to certify their produce and sell it as carbon-neutral or carbon-positive.
Learn more about this investment opportunity here.
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