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VC firm chief says agritech can be Israel’s next ‘hi-tech’
By SHARON UDASIN
04/12/2013
Israel's agricultural technology industry has potential to become global force to be reckoned with, experts say.
 
Following in the footsteps of the country’s hi-tech sector, Israel’s burgeoning agricultural technology industry has the potential to become a global force to be reckoned with, agreed experts at a conference on Tuesday.

“Agritech can and should be Israel’s next technological sector,” said Steve Rhodes, chairman and CEO of The Trendlines Group, a venture capital firm that invests in agricultural technologies and medical devices. “In order to achieve that dream, it’s necessary to give the sector much broader exposure.”

Rhodes was addressing corporate and academic participants at the second annual Agrivest Conference, sponsored by the Mofet-Trendlines Venture Accelerator and held at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. While a wide range of Israeli start-ups and larger companies have long been innovating in agricultural technology fields, ensuring that the technologies have multi-disciplinary applicability and that they reach a global audience will now be crucial, experts at the conference agreed.

“The dramatic increase in the global population, climate changes and water scarcity all enhance the importance of agriculture in the world,” said Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir. “Israeli capabilities are known worldwide but we must leverage our abilities to keep Israel a global player.”

Stressing that the government has recognized the importance of promoting further Israeli agritech development, Shamir explained how his budget alone, for agricultural research and development, received an increase in the 2013 national budgetary decisions. This budget, he said, now receives NIS 100 million annually.

As Israeli innovators continue to develop agricultural technologies, experts at the conference agreed that some of the most valuable types of tools will be those that allow for improved data and resource management. Tools that “put all the pieces together and enable us to offer a grower to manage risk better” are the most crucial, said Peleg Chevion, head of abiotic stress management and crop enhancement at Syngenta.

“Every time a farmer puts a seed in the ground he is taking a tremendous risk,” agreed Virginia Ursin, a science fellow and technology prospecting leader at Monsanto Research. Developing technologies that minimize this risk as much as possible is critical to the future of agriculture, she explained.

Avi Perl, chief scientist at the Agriculture Ministry, explained that his ministry is aiming to do just that.

“Our dream technology, the technology that we are currently supporting the research of, together with leading scientists and companies, is what we call the ‘Facebook of agriculture,’” said Perl.

The venture will be a sort of “agri-pedia” or “agri-cloud” that comes together with a multi-criteria decision support system, evaluating factors such as genetics, physiology, environment and climate, Perl explained. It is the hope of researchers that this future tool, to be available on phones and other mobile devices, will enable farmers to make more informed choices, he said.

“We cannot control the weather,” said Perl, “but we can minimize the dependence of agriculture on what we call God.”
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