19. June 2019
Interview with Patrick Walsh
Europe needs to bet big, says the Founder & MD of Dogpatch Labs
By Sarah Liebigt
How can Europe profit from innovations in agtech and how can the industry support farmers in identifying the right solution for their fields and stables? Dogpatch Labs founder Patrick Walsh is convinced that Europe needs to think bigger in oder to be a global leader.
Farm & Food: If you consider challenges on European fields vs African/Israeli/Asian – are there national/continental differences?
Patrick Walsh: Farming and the different sizes and shapes of farms are very different, depending where you are in the world. The average dairy herd size in India for example is three cows, in Ireland its about 200 and in the US you have mega dairy farms. So there are very distinctive differences in terms of fragmentation and getting to these types of farmers. And also the cost that some of these farmers are able to pay for this kind of technology. There is consideration in every market. Some of the agtech solutions that we’ve seen are great at addressing issues in the Indian market but that same solution just won’t work in Europe or the north American market.
This year we have a lot of start-ups from Europe, some from north America, previous year we had some from Indonesia and Asia. I think the question is, where are they headed in terms of their focus markets. European start-ups are mostly focused on doing trials across Europe. Typically, that’s what happens: Start-ups prove something on their local market and then they start looking at larger markets like the US. If they have a certain type of technology like CRISPR, they may decide to go to places like china first, because the regulations may move faster.
What is Dogpatch Labs doing to find and access interesting markets (worldwide)?
Dogpatch is continuously researching different start-ups, different markets in agtech. The mistake that some companies make is that they create a webpage and throw out a press release and then they think that all the start-ups will come to them. But actually you need to examine, what the company does and you need to actively look for start-ups in that space, reach out to them, start a dialogue and go from there. So we are constantly looking at different ecosystems, from New Zealand to Beijing to San Francisco to Europe.
Some companies, investors and even politicians say that there is no growth in Europe, the market stagnates: agtech needs to evolve here, anyway. So how to make Europe attractive to investors?
You are starting to see certain countries in Europe really invest into the agtech infrastructure. The thing about agtech is, you need to have research farms and you need to have certain types of accelerators. The UK has now committed 500 Million Pounds to an agtech initiative. That’s a serious investment. Part of that is driven by Brexit of course, as they try and stimulate indigenous enterprises. I think that countries across Europe should be looking at that, they should be asking themselves: “Should we think about making bigger investments?” I think too much of the time European companies are thinking in terms of five or ten million Euros commitment to agtech hubs. Whereas actually to be a true global leader you need to think much bigger. It will be interesting to see who actually bets big and goes for that in Europe.
Innovation and the implementation of agtech is interesting for those who try new ways. So how to address traditionalists? How to connect them with start-ups?
Agtech can be confusing for farmers. There are just so many solutions out there. We have counted about 150 different farm management apps. The first thing is that we need to find ways to explain to farmers, what the right solution is and that’s part of what the Pearse Lyons Accelerator does. Second thing that we need to do is to make sure that it is actually affordable for farmers.
Often we find that the agtech that the start-ups are selling is prohibitive for farmers. So this year we have seen some business model innovation in terms of combining feed, agtech and a different kind of business model to make things more affordable for farmers.
Part of this year’s class is Biome Makers, they also do research down to the molecular level. What made Dogpatch Labs choose them for the Pearse Lyons Accelerator programme?
Biome Makers is doing something really interesting. They noticed that the price of dna sequencing and the ability of AI and the ability to process huge data sets were moving on exponential curves. So the timing is really good for their technology solution.
Alltech has a crop science division. So they want to be working with one of the most innovative crop science companies out there. We thought, this was an exciting company. We like the founders, we like the mission, we think there’s huge potential there. Alltech has actually be running pilots in Spain, in Brazil: When they [Biome Makers] sample the soil, they are able to match that to some of Alltech’s products. That way they become a sales enabler.