Estonian climate-tech start-up eAgronom is helping farmers connect with financing to make agriculture more sustainable.
In his early teens, Robin Saluoks, the son of a farmer in rural Estonia, wanted to be a professional footballer. But at 16, when he founded his own company to provide science experiences to school-age children, his life changed forever.
Bitten by an entrepreneurial bug, Saluoks started studying computer science at university “to find out how things worked”. It was around this time that he wrote some code to create farm management software for his dad.
“Once my farm management software attracted attention from my dad’s farming friends, I could see the product’s potential,” Saluoks told SiliconRepublic.com.
Today, that idea has blossomed into a climate-tech start-up called eAgronom, which is on a mission to make farming and agriculture more sustainable.
Making climate-positive agriculture profitable
Founded in the Estonian city of Tartu in 2016, eAgronom has developed a platform that is bringing economic benefits to farmers to incentivise them to incorporate more climate-friendly practices.
Working with a wide range of stakeholders including agribusiness dealers, banks, food companies and landlords, eAgronom is trying to make climate-positive food production more attractive and profitable.
“All industries are directed toward net zero, including farming. The good news is that there are plenty of stakeholders who are happy to incentivise sustainable and low-emission farming,” explained Saluoks, who is the company’s CEO.
“Some companies want to offset their emissions and are ready to pay farmers for sequestering carbon in the soil. Banks are already giving better interest rates for electric cars; they want to do the same for sustainable farmers.
“Almost all bigger food companies have net-zero targets and are looking for ways to pay more for food grown with low emissions. Also, the landlords want to incentivise sustainable land use to defend their investments.”
The challenge, according to Saluoks, is that none of these stakeholders can verify sustainable farming and levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the farm – and that is where eAgronom comes in.
“Agribusiness is a multitrillion market that wants to move towards zero emissions, and we are the ones who provide the necessary infrastructure to achieve it.”
Essentially, the company’s emissions monitoring, data verification and programme certification capabilities – using tech ranging from satellites to AI – are helping farmers access lower interest rates from financial institutions and get pre-paid for high-quality carbon credits.
“These technologies help us to detect and monitor important information, including which crops farmers are growing, whether they are cover cropping, when they are cultivating and much more,” Saluoks went on.
“All the data we gather is incredibly useful not just for our business, but the science community as a whole. It enables us to develop even more precise soil models in the future.”
The journey so far
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was eAgronom. To compensate for the limitations in his coding capabilities, Saluoks got experienced developer and co-founder Stenver Jerkku on board “to build a solid, scalable product from the ground up”.
The duo then met eAgronom’s third co-founder, Kristjan Luha, at a beach on a family holiday. Luha had worked at Nike for around two decades, gaining a wealth of experience in international sales and business strategy.
“He had recently moved back to Estonia with his family, so we were able to coax him into the world of eAgronom and the rest is history,” Saluoks said.
Today, the company has a customer base of more than 1,700 paying farm businesses that cover a million hectares of land across Europe.
Just last month, eAgronom struck a partnership deal with Swiss carbon finance consultancy South Pole around its carbon programme and signed an agreement with Swedbank to provide sustainability loans to farmers in the Baltics while undertaking agroforestry trials in Africa.
“We are going through a very exciting period at the moment,” Saluoks said. “We have spent the last quarter strengthening our team as we diversify our portfolio and expand geographically.”
Earlier this year, eAgronom raised $7.4m in Series A funding led by Yolo Investments and ZGI Capital, with participation from Trind VC, Iron Wolf Capital and United Angels VC.
‘They were hard times, but we learnt a lot’
Like any other start-up, Saluoks said the journey to getting eAgronom where it is today hasn’t been an easy ride. “There was one year at the very beginning when we decided to enter multiple new markets practically at the same time,” he said.
“We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. From cultural differences to varied customer needs to compliance issues in different countries and language barriers – you name it, we dealt with it all
“They were hard times, but we learnt a lot and came out of that period stronger.”
Estonia, the home of tech titans such as Skype and Bolt, is a great place to do business, according to Saluoks, because it is “buzzing with clever brains that develop innovative things”.
“Over the last 30 years since our country’s independence from the Soviet Union, successive governments have understood the importance of the digital industry and have fostered the sector from education all the way to international investment,” he said.
“Start-up visas for entrepreneurs outside of the EU have turned Tallinn and Tartu into exciting start-up hubs bustling with activity. I would not want to be anywhere else!”
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