GOFAR - Advanced Farm has been a promising start-up since its first steps; can you explain this success story?
KC - First, thank you for labeling us as a success story! While we have certainly had our share of successes since we started, we consider ourselves to be only part of the way into the journey. Our mission is to bring automation to agriculture to empower workers, protect the livelihood of growers, and lay the foundation for the next generation of innovation in farming.
Our robots have picked and packed millions of pounds of fresh fruit for strawberry growers in California. In 2021, we adapted our robotic harvesting technology for apple orchards, and now we are picking tens of thousands of apples every day for apple growers in Washington. In the next phase of our company’s growth, we will work with our new investor, CNH Industrial, as well as our closest grower partners, to make our technology available at scale.
GOFAR - Picking robots represent a revolution for farming operations, especially when it comes to specialty crops. Can you tell us more about these technologies and your business model?
KC - In order for us to deliver a practical solution to growers, we have had to push the bounds of what exists today in robotics. For example, our robotic arms are making tens of thousands of decisions successfully on the farm every day – there are few, if any, examples of real-time robotics outdoors like this happening anywhere in the world today. Over the past five years, we have developed a robust tech stack including custom hardware for arms, grippers, a serial-hybrid drive system and a rugged camera that can operate outdoors. We have also developed sophisticated software for autonomous navigation, fruit detection, and motion control that integrates our hardware systems into a high-performance harvesting platform. Now that we have developed this strong technical foundation, we can make improvements every day at a rapid pace using data analytics and machine learning.
Despite the cutting-edge nature of our tech, we have always designed with the grower and farmworkers in mind. The user interface to our machines is usually just a couple of buttons to start and stop, and all mechanical interfaces make for easy maintenance and repair. We aim to be flexible in our business model, and we plan to offer a range of options including leasing, purchasing and product financing.
GOFAR - Someone told me you've made a deal with CNHi recently ;) Tell us the story to inspire other OEMs!
KC - In September 2022, I was invited to sit on a panel at FIRA-USA with other entrepreneurs and Marc Kermisch from CNH. This proved to be the start of a long-term relationship with CNH that included a recent minority investment in advanced.farm. We are excited to have CNH as an investor and partner, and we know that they can make a big impact on helping us bring our products to market. The investment also fits into CNH’s own technology growth, as they are actively pursuing investments in technology that advance their strategy of bringing to life a fully autonomous farming cycle.
We are grateful to the FIRA team for bringing industry together – over the next decade I think we will see more partnerships between OEM’s, the venture community, and agtech start-ups. I hope that our experience can serve as an example to others, also knowing that there is so much more work left to do!