AgTech startup to enhance specialty crop harvesting with new robotics solution
Future Acres - a new startup bringing sustainable agricultural robotics to the farm industry in order to optimise workforce efficiency and safety - has launched to raise up to $3m in seed capital via equity crowdfunding site, SeedInvest. The company is producing an autonomous, electric agricultural robotic harvest companion, named Carry, to help farmers gather hand-picked crops faster and with less physical demand.
At a time when farmers are tasked with producing more food than ever before to meet growing global population demands - predicted to get as high as 10 billion people by 2050 - limitations in labour and harvesting tools, in addition to environmental and sourcing scrutiny, have challenged farmers to stay profitable and scale their businesses.
Bankruptcies hit an all-time high pre-COVID, and as the pandemic swept the farmlands, farmers struggled to do more with less as shortages in the supply chain were exposed and the state of the industry worsened. In fact, farm income is expected to fall 12% to $79.4bn in 2021, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, with production costs only climbing. The US Department of Agriculture forecasts total production expenses to increase by $8.6bn (2.5%) compared to 2020 - reaching $353.7bn in 2021 due to a higher spend on feed, fertiliser and labour. Optimisation and reducing cost are paramount for the industry to recover from the challenges of the pandemic.
Future Acres aims to provide farmers with an accessible and affordable solution that not only optimises the farming industry but builds new productivity into the food supply chain at the point of harvest to push the industry into a new era of prosperity, ethical sourcing and sustainability.
Through advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and electric power, Carry streamlines the harvesting process with the ability to transport up to 500 pounds of crops on all terrain and in all inclement weather conditions - increasing production efficiency by up to 30% and paying for itself in only 80 days. Its machine learning and computer vision capabilities also allow the machine to avoid obstacles like trees and people and collect and apply data to further enhance its precision.
Because the agriculture industry still relies primarily on humans to harvest specialty crops, seasonal farmworkers have to handle produce with care while balancing harsh and dangerous working conditions - often times with low and unreliable wages. The International Labour Organization actually found that workers in the industry run twice the risk of dying on the job compared with workers in other sectors - mainly because they’re working long shifts under extreme weather conditions. Carry improves those conditions by working alongside farmworkers as they harvest to lessen the load.
Using computer-vision-powered autonomy or through remote control operation, Carry autonomously and safely follows farmworkers for a whole day's work - the machine comes equipped with a 7-10-hour swappable battery range or 6-10 miles traversed terrain navigation. One Carry operating in the field farms could result in up to $13,500 in efficiency gain per season, and with multiple Carrys operating autonomously to transport crops from the field back to the farm, 5-10 workers can stay focused on quality, careful sourcing, without needing to go back and forth for miles.
As consumer focus increases on food supply chain practices and as attention falls on health and human safety post-pandemic, Future Acres is also planning on focusing on precision agriculture, measuring pesticide-use and crop health, and tracking yield, quality and food waste, without adding emissions or toxins to the farmlands it navigates through. The machine-learning-backed approach will ultimately serve to improve the final quality of food reaching future consumer tables.
“The agricultural industry is facing a seemingly never-ending list of challenges on a financial, worker and sustainability level,” said Suma Reddy, CEO of Future Acres. “Our vision with Carry was to develop a tool and system that could help alleviate these stressors and move the industry forward by providing a helpful operational solution capable of supporting workers by reducing the physical toll - back pain, twisted ankles and shoulder inquires no longer need to be the normal. Carry is the future of harvesting and will make an immediate impact on the lives of those in the field each and every day, all while reducing costs and helping farmers to stay profitable.”
Future Acres plans to bring Carry to small- and medium-sized farms throughout the United States. It is backed by lead investors Wavemaker Partners, a global Venture Capital fund with $400m and Wavemaker Labs, a robotics and automation-focused venture studio.
By launching its seed capital raise through equity crowdfunding, any individual can invest in the company without large upfront costs. The democratised venture capital model allows everyday investors to be pioneers in technologies like robotics, automation and artificial intelligence.