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Agriculture , & agri-food

Agriculture and agri-food encompass the entire chain from agricultural production to the processing and distribution of food products. They aim to meet the growing food needs of the world’s population, while taking into account the economic, social and environmental aspects of food production.

Today, innovation in these fields focuses on the introduction of new ideas, technologies, methods or processes with the aim of improving efficiency, productivity and environmental impact.

In agriculture, the focus is on robotics, artificial intelligence, remote sensing, drones, genetics, closed-loop and vertical farming; soil management and conservation, precision irrigation, biofertilizers and biostimulants, intercropping, biological pest and disease control, and agroforestry. The agri-food industry, for its part, is concerned with food processing, packaging and conditioning, food safety and traceability, waste reduction, and new techniques (e.g. large-scale insect breeding) and biotechnologies (precision fermentation industry) for the industrial production of food ingredients (proteins, lipids, vitamins, etc.).

As these three fields are interconnected and interdependent, they cannot be dissociated in a technological innovation ecosystem commonly referred to as “agtech”, and there are many synergies between their different players.


Around Chicago, the Midwest region, nicknamed the Corn Belt, is home to field crops such as corn, soybeans and straw cereals (wheat, barley), and to agricultural and agri-food leaders such as Cargill, ADM and John Deere.

Midwestern universities support this sector through their teaching and research programs. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the expertise of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is a source of talent, scientific innovation and industrial progress. Multidisciplinary innovation is supported by the TIAA Center for Farmland Researchand and the Center for Digital Agriculture. At Purdue University, in Indiana, the College of Agriculture also focuses on multidisciplinarity for more productive, less costly and more sustainable agriculture.

Research and innovation in agriculture and agri-food are supported by public institutions, associations and support structures. In Chicago, l’incubateur The Food Foundry incubator provides funding, mentoring and connections in the agri-food industry to catalyze new ideas. Upstream in the agricultural value chain, the Illinois Farm Bureau is dedicated to the economic prosperity of the state’s agriculture and its farmers. Downstream in the value chain, the Cleveland Avenue incubator and the Chicagoland food and beverage network focus on technological innovation in food and beverages, known as “foodtech”, which naturally impacts the entire chain, from agricultural production to distribution. With the perspective of developing the sector in harmony with the challenges of ecological transition, the Naturally Chicago, association brings together entrepreneurs, investors, experts and distributors to strengthen the natural products industry. Wisconsin, close to Chicago, as in other Midwestern states, agriculture is a crucial part of the economic landscape; the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is a reference point for economic development and regulation of the agricultural sector, and therefore a key player in the entire agro-industrial ecosystem.

For startups, significant funds can be raised: this is the case for Nature’s fynd ($510M), which is developing a substitute for animal proteins thanks to microscopic fungi, and Chromatin ($12M), whose vision is to improve seeds to withstand the test of time, parasites and climatic or pathogenic aggressions.

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