Invest In Your Vegetables

Private Wealth
By CAROL CLOUSE
December 15, 2017

Whether or not you can imag­ine peo­ple across the planet chow­ing down on veg­gie burg­ers and “clean” chicken nuggets, this does raise an impor­tant point: The future of food is not just about sub­ur­ban Amer­i­can moms who want their kids to eat pesticide-​​free car­rot sticks or urban hip­sters who will pay through the nose for locally raised, organ­i­cally fed, free-​​range duck. It’s about feed­ing a global pop­u­la­tion expected to top 9 bil­lion by 2050 with­out destroy­ing the planet that sus­tains us.

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It’s also finan­cially smart. With an annual invest­ment of $320 bil­lion in sus­tain­able busi­ness mod­els by 2030, the food and agri­cul­ture indus­try could reap $2.3 tril­lion a year, a 2016 report from the Busi­ness & Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion (BSDC) esti­mates. That rep­re­sents a seven-​​fold return on invest­ment and could cre­ate more than 80 mil­lion jobs.

We’ve been watch­ing food and ag for quite some time,” says Nancy Pfund, founder and man­ag­ing part­ner of DBL Part­ners, an impact-​​focused ven­ture cap­i­tal firm best known for its clean tech invest­ments in the likes of SolarCity and Tesla.

With its third fund, a $400 mil­lion vehi­cle that closed in 2015, DBL has invested in Apeel Sci­ences, which cre­ates prod­ucts from plant extracts that allow grow­ers to reduce their reliance on pes­ti­cides, increase pro­duce qual­ity and extend shelf life, thereby reduc­ing food waste.

The firm has also expanded its posi­tion in the Farm­ers Busi­ness Net­work (FBN), an ana­lyt­ics com­pany that pro­vides farm­ers with data that helps them track and reduce the use of chem­i­cals, water and energy. Pfund believes this type of tech­nol­ogy will pro­duce change on a larger scale because main­stream mega-​​agriculture is where the num­bers are.

To move the mega-​​beast, you’ve got to do it through this data-​​based approach,” she says. “It elim­i­nates the opaque nature of the indus­try and reveals that you can get good [crop] yields with­out using so much of this stuff, and, if you can show that to buy­ers, you’ll be able to com­mand bet­ter pric­ing as con­sumers increas­ingly care more about this. It’s a very nice mar­riage of demand pull and tech­nol­ogy push.”

Some U.S. farm­ers, also see­ing the poten­tial of a grow­ing mar­ket­place, have begun chang­ing to organic prac­tices, but the num­bers for cer­ti­fied organic farms remain tiny, less than 1% for most U.S. crops. Still, more than 4 mil­lion acres of U.S. farm­land are now devoted to organic agri­cul­ture, accord­ing to a 2016 report from the mar­ket research firm Mer­caris, a record that marks an 11% increase over 2014. The num­ber of cer­ti­fied organic farms is close to 15,000, ris­ing more than 6% since 2014.

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