Specialist venture capital firm Regenerate Ventures has invested in Agreed Earth, a UK start-up using technology to promote regenerative farming and reduce the use of nitrogen.
- Agreed Earth will use the investment to develop reference clients in the UK before expanding into the European and US markets.
- Nitrogen fertilisers come with a major upstream carbon footprint, in addition to their downstream environmental consequences.
- Emerging technologies will help enable the collaborative approach needed to reduce the agricultural sector’s environmental impact.
Regenerate Ventures channels its investments towards companies using technologies to help farmers produce food with a reduced impact on the environment.
Aligning with this focus, Agreed Earth makes use of remote sensing technologies to produce auditable health indexes of farmers’ land. Its customers can access these audits through an online portal, enabling them to identify high-risk areas and monitor progress in reducing their nitrogen use.
The platform also offers e-learning programmes, a database of sustainable machinery and farm input suppliers, and a forum for farmers to share their knowledge and experience.
Once fully developed, it will be expanded further to include a suite of calculators that help users model the long-term financial outcomes of applying different sustainable farming methods to their land.
The environmental consequences of farming with nitrogen
Nitrous fertilisers pose a range of threats to the environment, both upstream and downstream of the farms on which they are applied.
The upstream impacts stem largely from the production of ammonia, a nitrogen-containing compound that makes an effective fertiliser and has grown to become the second-most commonly produced chemical worldwide.
Its production takes place under high pressure and temperature conditions, making it an extremely energy intensive process that typically relies on the burning of fossil fuels.
Reflecting this, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that ammonia production accounts for around 1.3% of the global energy industry’s total CO2 emissions.
Once fertilisers have been applied, they risk leaching ammonia leaches into the surrounding ecosystems, with detrimental effects on local biodiversity. When it escapes into natural aquatic systems, for example, ammonia causes algal blooms that deplete the water’s oxygen content – suffocating aquatic wildlife and eating into the food chain of larger land animals.
Nitrous fertilisers are also subject to biological processes driven by soil bacteria, causing them to release nitrous oxide emissions, which are 300 times more potent than CO2 emissions.
Reducing the agricultural sector’s environmental impact
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) came together in 2022 with a report that said that “business-as-usual is not an option” for the agricultural sector.
Tackling the industry’s environmental impacts, however, will not be easy. With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, worldwide food production will have to increase by around 70%.
Meeting this demand will become even more difficult as the impacts of climate change, such as soil erosion and extreme temperatures, place increasing pressure on agricultural systems. The sector will need to be convinced that any changes to its model can deliver the same, or greater yields, without pushing costs beyond economic viability.
Technological and process disruption on the horizon for agriculture
New solutions have already begun to emerge, such as the use of bio-based fertilisers or the plantation of cover crops to protect vulnerable soils. Agreed Earth’s supplier database provides companies developing such solutions with a platform through which they can connect directly with farmers.
By bringing farmers into contact with solutions-providers, the platform could help match supply with demand and help these solutions reach the customers they need in order to scale.
Another core benefit of Agreed Earth’s service, it says, is its ability to lower farm risk profiles in the eyes of financial lenders.
Its audits can be used to communicate any improvements made in a farm’s soil quality, highlighting potential opportunities for increased productivity, while also serving as evidence of compliance with policy requirements – providing reassurance against regulatory risks.
Agreed Earth co-founder Kelly Price said, “our core team has combined knowledge of soil science, satellite technology and change management to develop a platform that spans two very different industries, farming and banking.”
Managing director Paul Rous added that, “well-targeted money is essential to driving the changes that will transform agriculture and save the planet, and Agreed Earth will help free it up”.
Investments in farms which are taking more sustainable approaches can then be used by farmers to explore new solutions – creating a cycle of funding opportunities that will support both the development and the implementation of sustainable farming.
This highlights how collaborative platforms such as is offered by Agreed Earth can drive change in the agricultural sector by enabling a more holistic approach and appealing to multiple stakeholders.