A pilot and a sports journalist walk into a pub. What happened next would change the trajectory of their lives – and transform the livelihoods of countless farmers across Australia.
Stu Adam and Tim Howell never set out to build an agtech company that develops digital twins of farms.
Back in 2015, the two former housemates had a simple idea: help farmers get a better understanding of their land.
They set out to build drone technology to capture high-resolution imagery of crops. However, after having conversations in market, it became clear that this approach wouldn’t achieve the scale that their target customers needed.
“We have never come to the farmer with a solution, looking for a problem. We’ve always started by asking the farmer what they needed - which has become our motto: Everything we do, starts with the farmer,” says Stu.
With this mentality in mind, in 2016 Stu and Tim put a card behind the bar of the Imperial Hotel in Trangie, NSW and invited a group of farmers to share the issues they were facing.
The duo then left with a new perspective and a direction – a direction that would eventually shape the Agronomeye platform as we know it today.
farming with vision
Agronomeye develops digital twins of farms using incredibly detailed data sets, which empower farmers and their stakeholders to make decisions with clarity and confidence.
“If you think of satellite imagery of your farm as an x-ray, what we do is more like an MRI. The digital twin is delivered through our platform, AgTwinTM, where we overlay data modelling to provide an incredibly precise understanding of the complete farming system,” says Stu.
The process starts with capturing data using a piloted aircraft with a LiDAR sensor and turning that data into a 3D digital twin of the property, which identifies the property boundaries, infrastructure and land features.
This is then delivered through Agronomeye’s AgTwinTM platform, which pulls modelling data from a variety of sources such as a rare species heatmap analysis developed for a client project, Vegetation Analysis or Water Flow Modelling developed with CSIRO; or third-party sources for weather forecasts, and soil condition sensors.
Farmers can choose the data layers they want to see or combine them to understand interdependencies on the farm.
Stu says its AgTwinTM platform provides the critical link between data and outcome – enabling farmers to make decisions that drive profitability, sustainability and resilience across the landscape. The use cases are endless, from reducing waste to pinpointing optimal natural habitat conditions or improving water use efficiency.
“Data in itself is a powerful tool, but it’s no use if you can't understand it. Previously, landholders would have to pay consultants to go from 0 to 1 or use their own best guess,” he says.
“We make data accessible and simple to understand. As soon as you see where the water flows, or erosion risk zones are, or a 3D view of the slope to be fenced, you can make an informed decision. And with integrity in the data, there is a marketable value that can be delivered throughout the supply chain.”
This data also helps farmers make decisions that are sustainable as well as profitable.
“We provide farmers with an accurate and dynamic picture of their land. From this point they are able to sustainably unlock the natural capital of their land without compromising profits,” adds Tim.
sowing the seeds
With such robust digital twin capabilities, it may come as a surprise that neither Stu nor Tim come from a farming background. However, it was this precise lack of experience in farming – and diverse experience in other sectors – that enabled the two to build Agronomeye into the platform it is now.
Tim’s background as a pilot gave him a deep technical understanding of LiDAR technology, as well as assessing where problems might be and how to laterally solve for those problems. Meanwhile, Stu’s media experience was integral in preparing him for a front-facing role and sharpened his ability to distil complex problems into simple steps rapidly, while retaining accuracy and an attention to detail.
This unique combination of skills comes in handy particularly when signing on new customers, as the barrier to entry – the need for LiDAR to create the digital twin – is fairly high.
“It’s our primary challenge, but in many ways, it’s an opportunity too. Because we’re not just signing customers on to our SaaS platform - we’re developing deep relationships with our early customers. We have a ring-side seat to the issues they’re facing on their property and their early experience of our platform, which informs how we develop,” says Stu.
These barriers are coming down, however, largely in part thanks to the work that Agronomeye is doing. The team are working with channel partners to deliver LiDAR to regions at scale and educate states on the benefits of investing in this technology to deliver productive and regenerative returns.
And while they’ve had a healthy level of discussion and debate, both say they’re incredibly lucky to have each other as co-founders.
from strength to strength
Needless to say, this hard work is paying dividends for the team.
Agronomeye were selected as the finalists of last year’s KPMG Nature Positive Challenge, which supports ventures that accelerate positive outcomes for nature and biodiversity. The team also closed a $3.5m raise in late 2022 that included the likes of Canva co-founder Cameron Adams and SiteMinder co-founder Mike Ford.
“Being a finalist for the Nature Positive Challenge was a milestone that had a huge impact on Agronomeye - much more than we expected. The recognition helped give us a platform to share our product with a wider audience. It reassured us, and our stakeholders, that we were on the right path. We also found our incredible lawyer at the demo day event and if that was the only win the program would have been worthwhile,” says Stu.
“All in all, I’d say that the Nature Positive Challenge served as a catalyst that accelerated our growth and pushed us to where we are now,” adds Tim.
And this momentum they’ve built? It shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Agronomeye recently announced that its digital twin technology has been approved as a methodology for identifying, monitoring and reporting on the above ground carbon farming projects across a million hectares.
The team were also a major recipient of the NSW Federal Government’s Accelerating Commercialisation Grant – and they’ve got some big news coming at a state-wide level, although they’re not ready to spill the beans on it just yet.
“At the moment, we really feel like we’re going from strength to strength. It’s been a long time in the making, but it feels like we’ve hit our stride,” says Tim.
“This is not to say we’re easing off. This is when the work begins.”
Stu coins it as a “watch-this-space” moment for Agronomeye, with the next 12 months set to bring about a slew of new features, tools, and projects that they believe will transform the platform for the better.
A vision to Make Sustainability Reality
Unsurprisingly, Stu and Tim have been through their fair share in growing Agronomeye – and they have some words of wisdom to share for other agtech founders.
"Don’t go in thinking you know all the answers,” says Stu.
“A product that might seem perfect from a tech standpoint, can fall flat if it doesn't align with the realities of everyday farming and real issues faced in the field.
“We’ve also followed the philosophy of ‘go where the river takes you’. The start-up journey presents unexpected challenges, but also opportunities. Being adaptive to continuously move forward has been key for us. As we scale, we’re definitely finding we can be more directive, but for the early stage it was invaluable.”
Tim highlights the importance of being in the trenches to build an understanding of the lived experience of farmers on a daily basis.
“In agtech, it’s important to have patience and take time to do the hard yards. Building relationships and listening to your customers is absolutely crucial. And be prepared to get your boots dirty – literally and metaphorically!” says Tim.
Both Stu and Tim also say the help from KPMG High Growth Ventures, and the broader firm, has been incredibly beneficial.
“Beyond the structured services provided that have really helped us to commercialise our operations, trusting the quality of the support allows us to be more active in the areas of the business that help us move forward."
Above all else, it’s this support and community that the founders say has been invaluable in helping them to take Agronomeye from strength to strength.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have amassed an amazing support network, both within the agri-industry and in the wider commercial, natural capital landscape. KPMG High Growth Ventures is definitely included within that list. It’s something we’re conscious of and it's really a driver for our growth,” says Stu.
“To echo Stu's sentiment, we're incredibly grateful for the support we've received. It’s a really interesting time to be involved in ag-tech, and working alongside the farmers we talk to, mapping this space and being part of its growth is really what it's all about,” adds Tim.
Learn more about Agronomeye here.
Learn more about KPMG High Growth Ventures and how we can support you throughout your startup journey.