(Published January 7, 2021)
In the past decade, precision agriculture has taken off as economic and environmental pressures have mounted and new technologies have offered the promise of more efficient and effective management decisions. Yet, for many farmers, the challenge of implementing precision agriculture practices remains sub-economic and/or logistically too complex.
Our second investment, SwarmFarm Robotics, is changing this. They are revolutionizing agriculture by providing the autonomous platform that delivers precision technology in the field.
We co-led a A$4.5M round alongside Artesian, the Queensland Business Development Fund, and a leading global environmental organization. Here are our investment notes.
SwarmFarm, based in Emerald, QLD, and founded by Andrew and Jocie Bate, a powerhouse couple that successfully operates a large farming operation, is an agricultural robotics company. But, SwarmFarm is more than just a robot company, it’s a platform provider that is enabling autonomous agriculture.
The SwarmFarm business model has two components: the SwarmBot platform and the SwarmConnect ecosystem. SwarmBot is the autonomous vehicle platform designed to carry out tasks such as spraying, weeding, and thinning. SwarmConnect is an ecosystem that enables 3rd party developers to build applications to run on the SwarmBot. Together (think app store and iPhone), SwarmBot and SwarmConnect provide the digital equivalent of the three point linkage- one system that can be put to many different uses.
Robotics is a hot space in agriculture, but SwarmFarm sets itself apart from the pack in many ways. The biggest is perhaps their laser-focus on maximizing value for customers. As a founding team, Andrew & Jocie bring deep operating experience in large scale agriculture - they know what great farmer-facing solutions look like and how to deliver them. For example, the SwarmBot is built so it can be serviced and maintained by farmers. This is a transformational feature both practically (i.e., they can fix it themselves to reduce downtime) and psychologically (i.e., they can confidently own and utilize powerful technology, without feeling dependent on proprietary channels for product support).
Relative to traditional farming equipment, the SwarmBot is a more nimble, lightweight, and fully autonomous machine that unlocks new capabilities for farmers. Rather than one big, heavy piece of equipment that has to be operated by a human, with SwarmFarm, a swarm of autonomous bots can get jobs done efficiently, precisely, effectively, and around the clock. This means that practices such as non-chemical weeding and variable rate spreading become more economically viable. Beyond economic viability, SwarmFarm also drives value-addition. For example, SwarmBot enables turf farmers to produce a higher-quality, premium product through more regular and precise mowing operations that can run 24/7.
SwarmFarm’s platform approach is also designed to solve a range of problems across a variety of settings. Compared to other robotic solutions that focus on a single use-case (i.e., a dedicated robot for picking, spraying, etc), the SwarmConnect ecosystem allows for one Bot to get many jobs done, ultimately driving the best possible return for owners through maximum machine utilization. The versatility of the system also means that it can be applied across settings, including broadacre farming and horticulture. For SwarmFarm and their ecosystem partners (i.e., 3rd party app developers), this opens up a large market of opportunities for recurring and highly scalable revenue streams that are aligned with customer needs.
Over the past 4 years, SwarmFarm robots have weeded, sprayed or mowed over 200,000 acres of farmland in Australia. The team has demonstrated incredible grit and determination in getting their robots deployed on ‘real’ farms, across grain, cotton, horticulture, turf and orchard settings, to customers who are incredibly happy with the product.
We continue to be impressed with the SwarmFarm team, not just because they have a strong track record of satisfied customers, but also because they are a great example of regional businesses creating high tech jobs (they’re also hiring!).
Are you a startup revolutionizing agriculture? Get in touch.