Washington, Iowa-based agricultural technology startup Continuum Ag is helping farmers in Iowa and across America through its soil health data platform TopSoil. The innovative software compiles farm agronomic data into a streamlined “common soil language” system, allowing farmers to “review test results, organic carbon, biological activity, and plant-available nutrients.”
Consensus spoke with Continuum Ag founder and CEO Mitchell Hora, a seventh-generation Iowa farmer, who explained what makes his company’s software so valuable to farmers. One of TopSoil’s main draws is it gives growers all of the data they need under one umbrella.
“What we’re able to do is help a farmer to get all of their agronomic data all in one place,” emphasizes Hora. “Today, [farmers] probably have their yield data in one location, they are getting fertility recommendations from a different location, they are using a different platform for scouting, a different platform for managing economics. We’re trying to help that grower to be able to get all of the information they need in one login. But, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, [we want to] connect with other key players and bring them to the table, linking the data into the TopSoil system.”
Farmers can use the information and fertility recommendations to maximize crop productivity and boost profit. It can also help them implement soil-improving solutions and move toward regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture “describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”
“We’re just saying: “here’s what your data says you need,” says Hora. “[Farmers] can go and purchase that fertility from wherever they want, and now it gives them a better understanding of how to work with mother nature, track those biological metrics, track carbon metrics, and utilize it to drive short-term decisions – we need to farm smarter.”
The company’s founder also notes in the next few weeks TopSoil will add a feature that will make it easier for farmers interested in entering the carbon capture market to do so. The new tool will allow relevant agronomic data the farmer has inputted into TopSoil to be shared directly with carbon removal marketplaces like Nori and Indigo, saving the farmer hours of work.
TopSoil has users in 27 states and 12 countries. Hora says the software “houses the largest private independent soil health dataset.” Farmers who don’t have the data they need to input into TopSoil can participate in Continuum Ag’s RightWay program.
“The RightWay Program replaces the current grid soil sampling system with an up-to-date detailed analysis that improves on-farm fertility management,” according to Continuum Ag. “Utilizing thorough zone analysis, we spatially evaluate the field, then go to the farm to collect soil samples.”
Continuum Ag, which employs 13 people and has educated hundreds of farmers in Iowa alone, raised around $325,000 from investors since the end of 2019. The company went through Memphis, Tennessee-based AgLaunch’s investment accelerator program which helped it earn a $50,000 investment last year from Iowa-based Ag Startup Engine and Ag Ventures Alliance.
“Mitchell is a leader in the soil health movement and passionate about quantifying the impact of regenerative ag practices for use by farmers, consumers, and the supply chain,” said Executive Director at Ag Ventures Alliance Spencer Stensrude. “This tool is needed to enable other high-impact technology that is being built.”
As agri-tech becomes more prominent, and other industry-leading corporations like Continuum emerge, venture capital could be a crucial component in ensuring startups have the funding needed to kickstart operations and make a difference in farmers’ lives. Federal efforts within the coronavirus relief package that passed late last year with bipartisan support from Congress ensures American innovation in the carbon capture market remains funded. Substantial investments in advancing carbon capture and storing technologies had broad support, which will go a long way to help in the removal of carbon pollution going forward.
Hora’s desire in particular is to help farmers, their families, and their communities, which is why his mission remains the driving force behind the company.
“My vision here and mission is to help family farms to be more economically resilient and environmentally sustainable – that’s what this boils down to,” says Hora. “Continuum Ag and the data tools that we provide are just one of the pieces in the pie to help a farmer to better feed their family and better invest in their rural community.”