By 2050, the world’s population will continue to grow and become increasingly food insecure, so anything that helps make food easier for farmers will go a long way.
That’s what Shelly Aronov, founder and CEO of InnerPlant, is trying to do with her startup, which uses plant physiology to gather vast amounts of data to make farming more efficient and sustainable. Or simply, it uses sensing and satellite technologies to enable plants to “talk” to their growers.
Shelly Aronov and Rod Kumimoto started the Davis, Calif.-based company in 2018 and have spent much of the past four years in R&D mode, developing genetically engineered crops that give early “signals,” such as when they’re thirsty, that pests attack or need nitrogen, so farmers can act quickly.
And by detecting all of this trouble before it happens, InnerPlant can help farmers reduce the amount of chemical pesticides needed, or harvest pathogens like fungi.
The company raised $5.65 million in a seed round in 2021 led by MS&AD Ventures and is now back with $16 million in Series A funding. This time Deere & Company led the round and was joined by MS&AD Ventures, Bee Partners and UpWest.
The new investment gives InnerPlant $22 million in total funding to date as it prepares to launch its first soybean production in 2024. In addition, the company will start communicating satellites to its sensors in 2023.
“We now have a very efficient process to develop soybean properties and we are now making the first commercial product, which is soybean sensors for fungal detection,” Aronov told TechCrunch. Next year we should have a soft start with field trials and then with the inner circle members.
The InnerPlant Inner Circle has 75 farmers working around 400,000 acres. These are groups of farmers who paid $500 to acquire products early in the company’s life cycle.
Since seeding, the company has grown to 18 employees. Last October, InnerPlant hired Randy Schulte to lead R&D. For over 15 years, he previously held similar roles at Arcadia Biosciences, Inari and Monsanto.
The company moved to a larger lab earlier this year and “finally had a place to deploy capital,” Aronov said. The company now employs several people in R&D, data and engineering, business development, customer success and marketing.
Meanwhile, Deere & Co. is no stranger to innovation on the farm. Earlier this year, John Deere announced its self-propelled tractors and its See & Spray targeting technology.
Tank Hartsock, Director of Corn and Soybean Production Systems for Deere & Co., told TechCruch that the investment fits his company’s mission to help farmers become better at preparing their land and using technology as appropriate.
“Being able to give the plant what it needs, when it needs it, in many situations on an individual level is the direction our strategy is taking us,” he said. “Shelly and our team quickly discovered that our visions were very aligned. Our investment is a commitment to being part of understanding how such a solution can drive greater efficiency in crop production. Being prepared to remove waste from the system is ultimately more profitable and results in better results for the farmer.
Edited at 10:02 a.m. CST: The company corrected its disclosures, including 400,000 acres operated by Inner Circle farmers and removing Tau Ventures as an investor.