More VCs harvesting their interest in ag-tech

For a sector to attract a serious share of venture capital, a few things usually need to be in place.

First, you need big problems to solve, and entrepreneurs equipped to address them. Then, you need investors expert enough to pick the best prospects. And, to keep the capital flowing, it helps to have some really big exits.

For investors in the agricultural technology space, all those factors have been lining up in recent quarters.

While the sector still attracts only a minuscule portion of venture capital dollars, its share has been growing. Ag-tech-focused funds have been ramping up. And with Monsanto’s $930 million acquisition of weather risk-modeling provider The Climate Corp in October, agriculture investors have proven they can deliver venture scale returns.

“Silicon Valley investors have really been piling in,” said Rob Leclerc, CEO of AgFunder, a site that links agriculture startups and accredited investors in the ag-tech space.

As evidence that VCs are willing to fund large ag deals, he pointed to the $65 million round closed in September by Kaiima, a developer of seed technologies. Backers include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Early stage has also been pretty active. Just last week, FarmLogs, a provider of satellite mapping and analytics apps for farmers, disclosed that it has raised a $4 million Series A round led by Drive Capital.

Other examples include NewLeaf Symbiotics, an agricultural biotech firm that raised $7 million last year from RockPort Capital, Open Prairie Ventures and Pangea Ventures, as well as ZeaKal, a developer of technology for increasing crop yield and oil content that raised a $3.8 million Series A round last spring led by Finistere Ventures.

Ag-focused VCs are also looking to scale up. San Diego-based Finistere, for example, is in the process of raising a second fund focused on food, energy and sustainability. Cultivian Ventures, a Midwest-focused ag-tech VC, is partially through raising a planned $200 million fund, Cultivian Sandbox II. Effingham, Ill.-based Open Prairie, meanwhile, is also in fundraising mode for its third vehicle.

By and large, Leclerc said, institutional investors seem receptive to ag-tech funds – at least so far as taking meetings.

“They’re certainly willing to hear a story,” he said. “We’ll see how the checks play out.”

In the accompanying table, we look at the most active venture and seed investors in ag-tech, focusing on fund size, recent deals, and exits.