Harnessing the power of agriculture to protect the planet: Interview with Robin Saluoks

Robin Saluoks is the co-founder and CEO of eAgronom, a startup that’s transforming the voluntary carbon offset market and accelerating the transition to net-zero. Founded in Estonia in 2016 as a Farm Management Software (FMS), the company is one of the leading agritech companies in the Baltics and Poland.

Across the world, it’s becoming more and more clear that large-scale adoption of sustainable farming practices is required to help save our planet. However, financial constraints and complex regulations remain key barriers for many farmers to make a move – and too much of the pressure is falling on the shoulders of this sector. At the same time, carbon offsetting has come under increased scrutiny due to a lack of transparency and measurability.

Coming from farming roots, Robin developed eAgronom to solve these problems and harness the power of agriculture to protect the planet. We sat down with Robin to find out more about his inspiring and innovative approach to impact-driven business. 

Congrats on raising your Series A! Farming and technology are not usually two words that are readily thought about together. What was your initial inspiration behind founding eAgronom?

The beginnings of eAgronom were quite accidental and came about when my father broke his computer. Today’s farmers rely heavily on computers for the running of their businesses, but unfortunately, the software my father was using to manage his farm was connected to his physical computer and it was a costly mission to transfer the data to a new machine. 

At that point, I entered the story. Since I was still studying computer science at university, I programmed the first version of a SaaS-based farm management software for my father’s exclusive use. However, other farmers got wind of it and wanted to start using it too. Recognising my own limitations, I engaged Stenver Jerkku’s help to assist me in developing a scalable product and eAgronom was born! 

eAgronom originally started as a Farm Management Software. You are now expanding to provide a carbon credits programme for farmers. Can you share more about how you decided to shift the business in that direction?

Being part of a carbon offsetting programme provides extra income to farmers by assisting the process of soil sequestration. Our technology provides transparent, real-time measurement capabilities for carbon projects. However, for farmers to become more sustainable, it requires substantial upfront investments and access to finance as the process of carbon credit certification takes an average of five years. This involves huge risks and uncertainty over future payouts, making involvement in carbon projects unappealing to most farmers in its current state. 

Working closely with the farming community over the last few years, we realised financing often constitutes an insurmountable barrier to adopting more sustainable practices and onboarding to a carbon programme. This is the conundrum we are trying to solve. We are in the process of launching the blockchain-based carbon protocol Solid World DAO, which will focus on buying pre-certified carbon credits that will in turn help finance new carbon sequestration projects on farms. 

With the help of eAgronom’s farm management software, AI and remote sensing technologies, farmers are able to provide accurate, transparent, and real-time progress of their carbon projects to ensure they are on track to become certified. This process ensures there are only winners: investors can be confident their investments are of high-quality, farmers will become wealthier, the food they produce will be healthier, and the environment will benefit by agriculture becoming a positive contributor to soil health and conservation. 

Farming is often (perhaps sometimes wrongly) associated with contributing to climate change. How does eAgronom help farmers become more sustainable? 

The farming industry is indeed a major polluter. However, it has immense potential not only to clean up its act but also to be a positive contributor to our natural environment. 

Soils are the largest carbon sink outside oceans, and sequestering carbon into agricultural soil via photosynthesis is a key natural means to fight climate change. Large-scale adoption of sustainable farming practices is required, such as crop rotation, undersowing, reduced fuel usage, till and fertilization, amongst others. 

eAgronom’s farm management software, AI and remote sensing technologies allow farmers to become more sustainable and get paid for creating fully measurable, transparent, and high-quality carbon credits.

When you first started you raised funds directly from farmers. How important was that to you and do you continue to work closely with farmers when developing your products? 

We raised €500k from 50 of our first customers, which was an incredibly humbling experience and it gave us the confirmation we needed that we were onto something good. I am the son and grandson of farmers, so it’s in my blood. Whenever I go abroad, I make sure I visit farms to get an understanding of the unique challenges the farmers there face. 

eAgronom’s consultancy arm is an important part of our business and our agronomical advisors are in constant communication with our customers to understand their needs and what they require from us to work better. The personal relationship we have with our farmers is incredibly important; our success depends on their success and vice versa. 

Agritech and climatetech are getting a lot of attention from the investment community in recent times. How has this changed from when you first launched eAgronom and does investment being more readily available make you think differently about your business?

Indeed, both the AgriTech and ClimateTech markets are bursting with innovation and are being courted by investors. We were lucky enough to have fantastic support from investors from early on, and continue to do so, but we have seen the whole industry explode around us. 

It has finally dawned on the tech industry that we should be using technology to save the planet rather than build one extra gadget that we never knew we needed to make our lives a little bit more convenient. Many graduates don’t want to flock to Silicon Valley anymore to work on developing yet another business process application; they want to do their bit to avoid climate catastrophe. The current buzz around AgTech is fantastic and it allows us to think bigger, faster, and gives us hope for our collective futures. 

Launching a new product or pivoting often involves implementing a lot of changes in a business. How did you approach this change within eAgronom?

We identify who is the best suited for the job at hand, and if there is a gap, we fill it with a new hire. It’s important to be honest with yourself and understand your own limitations. We have been lucky enough to attract some fantastic brains to our venture from the very start. We are a very dynamic team and things change and move very fast, so it takes a certain kind of personality to keep up with our pace and enthusiasm! 

Now that you have raised a Series A, how do you see the team and company expanding over the next 12 months? Do you plan to launch in any new markets?

With the help of the latest funding round, we are working on expanding our carbon programme globally and accelerating product development, including adding advanced greenhouse gas tracking tools into our software. 

We are also testing and piloting additional green financing opportunities for farmers, specifically in the agroforestry space. 

What are you most excited about as a business at the moment? 

We are very excited about the prospect of helping onboard farmers to carbon programmes that ordinarily would not have had the chance. Agriculture has immense potential to be a positive contributor to the natural world, and we are proud to be supplying some of the tools to fight climate change.