The co-founders of Scaleworks have taken on a new mission to invest in, incubate, and acquire assets that can help accelerate the adoption of regenerative farming practices. Their new company, Soilworks Natural Capital, is focused on expanding the regenerative agriculture economy.
The B-corporation public benefit company launched Tuesday with the announcement of its first acquisition, PastureMap. Soilworks has acquired the California-based software company that developed a grazing management application farmers and ranchers use to manage animal herds for more sustainable land practices.
Lew Moorman and Ed Byrne founded Scaleworks in 2015 to buy and help technology companies grow either via venture equity deals or with venture finance support. Their newest Soilworks venture will take advantage of their experience in scaling businesses as they work to “drive consumer awareness and demand for regenerative products,” Moorman said.
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and supports agricultural ecosystems.
“We’ve had the idea for this a long time,” Moorman told Startups San Antonio. “The food system is ripe for disruption. We think we can bring our business sense and capital to help bring that along.”
The project has been in the works long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Byrne’s family has a background in farming. Moorman bought a farm called Pure Pastures in 2015 and started reading about regenerative agriculture about two years ago.
“My family was in cattle for many years and had gotten out of it,” Moorman said. “When we bought the land, it was obvious it had been overgrazed. Ed [Byrne ] said I should look at regenerative farming.”
Regenerative techniques work for both animals and the land and can be used on farms and ranches. PastureMap helps users track when to move animals from one area to another to avoid overgrazing and depletion of the native grasses and soil.
“Grasses and animals co-evolved and are used to being eaten a certain way in a synergistic relationship,” Moorman said. “In regenerative techniques, you try to mimic how the range grew when the buffalo roamed. PastureMap allows farmers and ranchers to track land management.”
Moorman discovered PastureMap when he used their software for his farm. Over time, he got to know the founding team of Christine Su and George Lee, who launched the company in 2015.
PastureMap manages over 6 million acres of grazing lands for its customers. Pricing per month for the software service is free at first and depends on the size of the farm or ranching operation. The agricultural tech startup uses Google Earth mapping, which is accurate enough for users to calculate acreage and fence perimeters.
Over time, the app imports data on rainfall and soil conditions from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service soil website, and integrates everything to show in real-time the conditions in pastures. PastureMap can also predict future growth in the given area to help farmers and ranchers see what their grasslands might look in a few weeks.
“Their [Scaleworks’] experience in software is deep and proven, but we have also seen great passion and knowledge of the regenerative farming movement,” Su said. “We know customers will see massive improvements in the service, making it easier for farmers to transition to better practices for their business and the planet.”
When managed appropriately on the right grasslands, beef production can be regenerative, rather than depleting the land. Giving farmers and ranchers the tools to create more fertile pastures can also increase production and profits.
“The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in our food system — it’s too centralized with lots of monocultures,” Moorman said. “Regenerative is a systemic approach that is beyond organic.”
Moorman and Byrne are actively looking for opportunities to invest in, acquire, or accelerate companies with an accelerator program tailored for regenerative agriculture businesses. They plan to run Soilworks for now. PastureMap has relocated to San Antonio and the duo has recently hired several developers and Nick Honegger, who left Enflux to manage the newly acquired software company.
Down the road, the co-founders will probably hire a full-time investment manager to handle the due diligence for Soilworks, according to Moorman.
“We’ll be looking at tools for farmers who need different infrastructure than ranches or other businesses,” Moorman said. “The pandemic, I think, will accelerate the move to a more decentralized food system with a better supply chain.”
Over time, Moorman predicts more sustainable farming practices, such as the model Organic Valley’s carbon-positive dairy farming cooperative uses for its member dairies.
“We’re interested in more investment in this space to accelerate innovation,” Moorman said. “We’re thinking about how we can help make a difference in the world by getting to the core of how nature works — it starts with healthy soil.”
Featured image of a water map view in the PastureMap app, courtesy image.