The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things in agriculture. But the changes could bring long-term benefits, including a better food system, panelists in a recent webinar said.

"We believe it's an opportunity to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship in this new food system," said Christina Rohr, principal of investments for S2G Ventures, a Chicago-based venture fund that invests in food and agriculture.

Christina Rohr, principal of investments for S2G Ventures, a Chicago-based venture fund that invests in food and agriculture.
Christina Rohr, principal of investments for S2G Ventures, a Chicago-based venture fund that invests in food and agriculture.
She was among the speakers at "Investing in Agriculture — What Does the Future Hold?" a webinar hosted Sept. 8 by the Farm Foundation and available online to the news media. The Farm Foundation says "it accelerates practical solutions for agriculture."

Panelists, in addition to Rohr, were:

  • Kiersten Stead, managing partner of DCVC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm.
    Kiersten Stead, managing partner of DCVC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm.
    Kiersten Stead, managing partner of DCVC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm.
  • Joelle Faulkner, founder and CEO of Area One Farms, a Canadian asset management company that invests in farmland and "operations with top-performing farmers."
    Joelle Faulkner, founder and CEO of Area One Farms, a Canadian asset management company that invests in farmland and "operations with top-performing farmers."
    Joelle Faulkner, founder and CEO of Area One Farms, a Canadian asset management company that invests in farmland and "operations with top-performing farmers."

  • Seana Day, partner in Better Food Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based company that invests to "create a better farm system."
    Seana Day, partner in Better Food Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based company that invests to "create a better farm system."
    Seana Day, partner in Better Food Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based company that invests to "create a better farm system."
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Rohr said the pandemic has contributed to greater focus on digitization (converting information into a digital format) and "more agile food systems" with shorter supply chains, both of which create opportunities for ag investments.

Day said COVID-19 led to "sharper focus" in ag investments, with greater emphasis on "need to have" instead of "nice to have," as well as greater interest in so-called cloud computing (different services offered through the internet) and mobility, or technology and services that allow people to move around more freely, she said.

Agriculturalists in general are still transitioning to widespread technology adoption, Day said.

"We've got to crawl before we walk, before we run," she said. "People are still moving from pen and paper, what they've always instinctually done, to capture what they've done digitally."

But technology is being adopted, in part because of greater interest from institutional investors in farmland, ag lenders, and processors and handlers.

Stead said her company focuses on investments in "deep technology," or fundamental changes in science and technology. She noted that ag faces challenges from people who worry about a science-based approach and instead hold a "romanticized or idealistic notion of agriculture. That causes some consternation for investors" in ag.

Faulkner said her Area One Farms in Canada takes a different approach than other companies that invest in ag. In addition to sharing appreciation on the investment with the farmer, Area One Farmers provides extra income to farmers for running the farm. Though the company now operates solely in Canada, "It's a model that I think could expand into other geographies," she said.

The webinar included audience questions on such topics as the role of land-grant universities and the growing attention on farming for cash flow instead of yield.

"Land-grant universities can be extremely helpful by making sure people get deep training in advancing technologies," Stead said.

As for farming for cash flow instead of yield, "Technology is helping farmers and ranchers become better businesspeople," Day said.