An ag-tech scaleup based in Gindie, Queensland - a regional locality in the Central Highlands region - has today locked in a $12 million Series A funding round to develop its automated farming solutions.
Called SwarmFarm Robotics, the company intends on deploying the capital to help solve a complex problem faced by farmers around the world: how to grow better crops and optimise land without putting down excessive amounts of chemicals or acquiring larger equipment.
To tackle this problem, SwarmFarm Robotics has developed a platform called SwamBot and an operating system network SwarmConnect that enables developers to create an array of applications for users of the autonomous platform.
The Series A was led by Emmertech - an ag-tech fund from Conexus Ventures Capital based in Canada. It was supported by new investment from Tribe Global Ventures and Access Capital, as well as returning investors Tenacious Ventures, GrainInnovate and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) - a venture capital fund managed by Artesian.
SwarmFarm CEO and co-founder Andrew Bate, who founded the company with wife Jocie Bate, says there is enormous demand for autonomy in agriculture, but that other solutions leave much to be desired.
“The current equipment providers believe that farmers just want to be plucked from the cab or replaced by robotic arms,” Bate says.
“We believe that farmers want more. They want a technology ecosystem built to address the issues in their locality, a farm-centric system that leaves the lowest possible footprint on their fields, helping them do more with less.
“They want integrated autonomy, so that's what we're building.”
According to Bate, integrated autonomy is a new approach to farming that unlocks the potential of driverless technology by providing specialty robotics solutions with an open platform upon which they can be developed.
To-date, the company counts a number of farm equipment developers as partners including WEED-IT, Bilberry, Weedseeker, Hayes Spraying, Rasmussen Brothers Engineering, Goldacres and Croplands.
“While many companies are making driverless tractors and developing niche robotics solutions in agriculture today, we believe that there is a third category of autonomy that combines the robot and the application within a development framework that will allow farmers to customise their equipment for their needs and allow developers to bring their innovations to life much more rapidly,” Bate says.
“It's the best of both worlds. For the farmer, we provide customised autonomy in a box. For the developer, we provide a streamlined path to the grower with a tight feedback loop."
Emmertech managing director Sean O’Connor labels SwarmFarm as a "pioneer" in the field of autonomous agriculture.
“The key trait that drove our eagerness to lead this round was the farmer-centric approach this team is built around and the truly exceptional results their robots have achieved,” O’Connor says.
“We met with several farmers who were putting upwards of 3,000 hours a year on their SwarmBot, often leaving them out in the fields for over 24 hours at a time. We believe there's a future where SwarmBots can be found on farms across North America and worldwide.”
According to SwarmFarm, the company last year successfully deployed SwarmBots to farmers who covered more than 1.3 million commercial acres, operated for 64,000 hours, and reduced pesticide inputs by an estimated 780 tonnes.
"We hit a point where we just said enough is enough," says Bate.
"We saw our input costs increasing, our equipment costs rising as we bought larger equipment, our dependence on pesticides rising, and our yields declining despite it all.
“There was a day when we sat down and realised that this wasn't an equation that needed incremental change; we needed an entirely new farming system - and SwarmFarm was the solution.”
The founder added that he envisioned a future where developers could create specialised tools that could be attached to swarms of small, nimble, autonomous robots to create new farming practices - facilitating collaboration between farmers and technologists.
“We envision a future where the most promising minds in technology are encouraged to turn toward solving the challenges faced by modern agriculture," Bate says.
“We also believe in a future where there is no longer such a severe distinction between farmers and technologists, but rather a new breed of farmer-technologists.
“This funding helps us to move toward that future by meeting more of the global demand for our product and facilitating the growth of our SwarmConnect network of developers."
Tenacious Ventures co-founder and managing partner Sarah Nolet says SwamFarm is helping develop a climate resilient, profitable future for agriculture.
“With their background in farming, the team at SwarmFarm has been able to see around some of the corners on the road to autonomy and anticipate the needs of the growers they serve,” Nolet says.
“We look forward to continuing to work with them as they unlock more productivity and sustainability in agriculture through their unique approach to integrated autonomy.”
Funds will also be used to hire more staff at SwarmFarm’s offices in Queensland and NSW to support growth of the business.
“The future of agriculture is happening now, but there is no way that one company can really invent everything needed to revolutionise agriculture,” Bate says.
“We need the smartest minds from around the world working on this; we need an army of developers solving agriculture's problems one app at a time.”
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.
Help us deliver quality journalism to you.
As a free and independent news site providing daily updates
during a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses everywhere
we call on your support