If new IPO CropLogic has its way, it’s not just Eric Olthwaite who will be getting excited about rain gauges and precipitation. Meanwhile, the globalized Fluence is taking on the world’s polluted waterways one filthy drop at a time. Tim Boreham investigates
CropLogic (not yet listed)
A feature of this upcoming agrarian IPO is that unlike the last several hundred small-cap tech listings, it’s not being spruiked as a “cloud” or “software as a service” based offering or a robotics story.
While the Kiwi-based CropLogic is all about predictive analytics to help growers achieve better yields, there’s no agenda to put agronomists out of work with a fully automated approach.
As for clouds, the most relevant ones are in the sky.
CropLogic’s IP is based on gathering data from sensors in the field (and other sources such as aerial pictures) to devise a crop management plan. “The technology allows agronomists to spend less time in the field while still getting the same level of reliable data,” says managing director Jamie Cairns. “There’s no point in them sitting in a car going from field to field, that’s not what they were trained for.”
The sensors pick up soil moisture at multiple depths and measure soil temperature, which give a steer on the crop’s sugar development. The sensors also include a rain gauge, which usually only Eric Olthwaite of Ripping Yarns fame would get excited about. But in this case, the gauges measure not just normal precipitation, but the moisture from irrigators.
While even small-acre cockies are more likely to wield GPS trackers than gumboots these days, CropLogic is squarely aimed at big producers with 1000 acres or more. CropLogic has also been working closely with the crop processors: giants such as PepsiCo (maker of Doritos), Simplot, ConAgra and McCain Foods.
Product trialling to date has centred on the humble spud, which is one of the highest-value crops and most difficult to manage in the chip-loving US.
The company estimates 29 million addressable acres in the US and 60m elsewhere. In other words, these tracts of land are in packages of at least 1000 acres (and often much more).
In the state of Washington, CropLogic has captured a 30 per cent share of the 170,000 acres under spud cultivation. The company gained this foothold (and just over $2 million of existing revenue) via the recent acquisition of agronomy business Professional Ag Services.
CropLogic expects to earn a US$35 per acre fee per annum for its deluxe service that includes a flying squad of agronomists to sort out any bacterial soft rot or root-knot nematode problems on the spot. If every large-scale farmer in the US were to adopt the service – which they won’t – CropLogic would be a US$1bn a year business.
But penetrate five per cent of this market and that’s a handy US$50m a year business. And with the average potato crop returning US$3657 an acre, US$35 is small beer if the service results in improved yields. Field testing to date suggest an average yield improvement of 6.25 per cent, which would lift revenue by US$200,000 for every 1000 acres cultivated.
The company is also eyeing the cotton, corn wheat and soybean sectors as logical expansions and it also has a foothold in China.
CropLogic is currently doing the rounds for $5 million to $6 million at 20 cents apiece, ahead of a planned listing on August 31 under the proposed ASX code CLI. The offer closes next Friday (August 11).
In a sense, CropLogic is an exposure to the agri sector without the full cyclical and weather related risks.
That’s because rain or shine, the growers will always need to avail of the service.
Fluence Corporation (FLC) 81c
Speaking of water, about the only Australian aspect of the globalized, New York headquartered Fluence (formerly Emefcy) is it happens to be listed on the ASX.
But foreign provenance didn’t preclude us from owning Russell Crowe and the late John Clarke and we would claim Lorde if we could.
So on these precedents, we shamelessly declare Fluence as an Aussie company taking on the world with its patented reverse-osmosis water purification technology.
Backed by US venture capitalist Richard Irving, predecessor Emefcy listed via the back door in late 2015, raising $14 million at 20c apiece in the process. Shareholders of the ASX listed Emefcy recently approved the acquisition of US counterpart RWL Water, owned by billionaire entrepreneur Ronald Lauder.
An heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire, Lauder has invested US$20 million in Fluence, over and above his scrip entitlement of just over 100m Fluence shares, for a 34 per cent stake in the company.
Emefcy stock had done well since listing, racing to as high as $1.07 on management’s promise of selling low-maintenance purification units to users such as resorts and small towns. While Emefcy’s technology is more advanced, the more established RWL had 7000 plants globally in 70 countries and this calendar year is expected to generate revenue of around US$90 million.
Emefcy’s units based on membrane aerated biofilm reactors, which push the impure water through the filters using 90 per cent less energy than traditional reverse osmosis.
They require only low operating expenses and are suitable for off-grid locations. Emefcy has operating test sites in water-starved Israel and is gaining traction in China through eight partnerships.
Earlier Emefcy cited an average set-up cost of US$277,000 for a 100 cubic metre a day plant, compared with around US$660,000 for a standard facility.
Fluence (former Emefcy) director Ross Haghighat says Chinese buyers want the packaged kit, rather than having to acquire bits and pieces to build a plant. “It’s like a Lego kit with all the critical components,” he says.
RWL’s products are more off the shelf, but it brings to the table a client base that includes Halliburton, Coca Cola, Pepsi, GM and Procter & Gamble. Fluence last week announced a deal to build a facility for one of Italy’s biggest chicken processors, Avimecc.
Recently the US$13bn water treatment sector has undergone consolidation, with the bigger operators such as GE and Veolia taking out the mid-tier companies. Because of this, Fluence emerges as a leading middle-market player with limited competition in the off-grid market (facilities from 50,000 to 10m litres per day).
Currently, Fluence’s market cap nudges $200m. In comparison, the New York listed desalination specialist Aqua Ventures, which has a market cap of US$900 million, turned over US$110m and made a US$16m loss last year.
Tim Boreham edits The New Criterion email@example.com
Disclaimer: The companies covered in this article (unless disclosed) are not current clients of Independent Investment Research (IIR). Under no circumstances have there been any inducements or like made by the company mentioned to either IIR or the author. The views here are independent and have no nexus to IIR’s core research offering. The views here are not recommendations and should not be considered as general advice in terms of stock recommendations in the ordinary sense.