From pesticide-spraying drones to AI-powered crop monitoring, startups are reshaping how the world grows and delivers food

Investors pollinated agriculture startups with a record $5B last year, reflecting the promise they see in data-driven disruption for one of the world’s largest and oldest industries.

It’s a good thing, too, because farmers face a tsunami of existential crises—from climate change and drought to worker shortages and rising labor costs—as global demand continues to climb for fresh food.

Indoor farming—or “vertical farming”—is a particular bright spot as startups across the U.S. vie for the $20B salad and lettuce industry.

New York-based Bowery Farms just raised a $300M Series C with celebrity investors Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman for its line of greens sold in 850 U.S. stores. In Massachusetts, Little Leaf Farms recently raised $90M.

In Minnesota, the “world’s largest lettuce producer,” Revol Greens, attempts to retain its title. With $203M in recent funding, the company is building the world’s largest greenhouse (in Texas, of course). In California, SoftBank-backed Plenty Unlimited raised another $140M and partnered with Driscoll’s to target global markets.

Outside the greenhouse, startups are innovating from sky to soil in pursuit of the smart farm: Drones monitor and spray pesticides from above; automated tractors till the soil; AI-powered drip irrigation systems feed crops; and fruit-picking robots harvest them.

Investors are betting big on tech-enabled farm management, too.

Israeli startup Prospera, acquired this year for $300M, aims to become the “world’s largest AI company in agriculture.” Similarly, India-based Intello Labs raised $5.9M to help farmers monitor crop quality. Boston-based Indigo (they’re hiring) raised another $360M to help farmers sell carbon credits.

Indonesia-based e-commerce platform TaniHub Group raised $65.5M to help farmers get better prices and more customers for their crops.

In Los Angeles, ProducePay (they’re hiring), raised another $300M for its commodity trading exchange for perishable fruits and vegetables. The company, which originated as a class project at Cornell University, has financed more than $3B in produce across dozens of countries.

Arkansas-based Winrock International (they’re hiring) partners with communities to develop and implement strategies that boost food production and are resilient in the face of a changing climate.

For those still clinging to the McDonald’s drive-thru, take note: Startups are busy working to improve that experience, too.