Bar Veinstein is the CEO of Taranis, an agriculture technology (AgTech) company that uses artificial intelligence and drone imaging to help farmers optimize production. He spent years as a software development developer for the IDF before spending 18 years working in the hi-tech software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry. In 2020, Taranis raised $30 million in a Series C funding round.
How would you describe the importance of the AgTech industry? What kind of trends are contributing to that importance?
“In the next 20 to 30 years, the world’s population will grow to 10 billion people. We have to double food production, and do it with less land and less resources. There are fewer fields in the world, and consumption is growing because the middle class is evolving in many countries, and that requires a higher protein intake. That’s a big challenge to the world, and Taranis is trying to help, by providing insight. Agriculture is probably one of the last verticals to go through the digital transformation. It’s a very conservative industry, and it’s not an easy transformation, but it is changing and we’re a part of that change.”
Pardon the pun, but do you find that interest in the AgTech space is growing? How has your history impacted the way that you look for eligible workers?
“People like to come and interview with us. Today, everyone pays the same, we have to compete on payment, but they like the feeling of doing something with an impact. You work in a company that has interesting technology, but it has a little bit of an edge with an impact on agriculture or the climate.
“I’m a believer in what I do. Once I go to something I’m passionate about, I like to see it through; so for me, being in a place for only three or four years. It’s not enough to see the transformation of my success there. I interview candidates sometimes, who are younger than me, but they’ve gone through 10 companies. Personally, I’m not judging, but personally I like that less, I want to see people scale and learn and stay in their fields. I’m looking for interest.”
When you think of the future of the ‘Start-Up Nation,’ do you see AgTech playing a larger role in Israel’s identity?
“First of all, I personally don’t like the term ‘Start-Up Nation.’ I prefer the term ‘scale-up’ or ‘grow-up’ nation. I made a decision to come back [from New York] to Israel, and I want to see this country succeed, and to succeed we need to be able to scale and grow companies. If we just stay as an R&D center for Google or for Amazon, we’re never going to break out of this trend.
“The same applies in AgTech. We have to have diversity in this country. We can’t just be the nation that does cyber, or the nation that does FinTech. We have to have a diversity of successful areas, where we have a lot of good companies. We’re always going to be a technology nation, but hopefully that can expand.
“Israel is actually becoming quite a success in the agriculture space, and for me, that’s what’s interesting. I’m not judging cyber companies, but I wouldn’t mind a situation where Israel isn’t only known for cyber; but also for AgTech, FoodTech – to me that’s a good thing. I have two daughters, and if I worked in a cyber company, I wouldn’t be able to explain to them what I do. If you ask my daughters what I do now, they’ll tell you I’m helping growers to have better yield, I’m helping the world address the needs of a growing population.”
The interest in impacting the world positively is clearly a contributing factor in your work at Taranis; one of the biggest challenges faced by the world today is the climate crisis. What efforts are you making to combat that crisis?
“Agriculture is actually one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases: 24% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the agriculture space. There’s much more carbon in the ground than there is in the atmosphere. What happens is that when the growers till their land, they turn the ground and let all the carbon out. When they harvest and the ground is exposed for the winter, it allows the carbon to get out.
“Today there’s a big movement in agriculture called ‘regenerative agriculture,’ where growers are changing their practices. They’ll do no tillage when they plant, or use cover crops after the harvest so the ground is never exposed. To convince them to do that, there’s a program called ‘carbon credit.’ It’s the idea that growers can sequester their carbon, and sell ‘carbon credit’ to other entities that are looking to lower their carbon footprint.
“For example, think about United Airlines. They say, ‘We’re going to make zero carbon footprint.’ How would they be able to do that? They fly planes. They burn gas and create carbon, there’s no way for them not to do that. Their business isn’t able to be ‘zero.’ So what they do is say ‘We are not able to go all the way to zero, but we do want to have zero impact on the world, overall.’ So they pay someone else to sequester their carbon, and if you look at the whole world, it balances to zero.
“This is becoming, and expected to be by 2050, a hundred billion dollar market in response to climate change. In the next 15 years you’re going to see that grow exponentially. The biggest challenge, though, is that growers have to prove that they’ve sequestered your carbon emissions in order to earn credit, and that requires soil sampling: people digging a couple times a year and sending their soil to laboratories.
“That is very expensive. It costs about 75% of the carbon credit, so that’s a bottleneck to the acceleration of that space. Taranis is now developing the ability to identify carbon mass from satellite data, which means we can do it in a much cheaper way, and we’ve scaled that space.