FarmWise: Applying AI and Automation to Solve a Huge Farming Challenge

August 02, 2021 / Jason Schoettler

Humans invented agriculture 10,000 years ago, and since then, farmers have consistently adopted innovative technologies to feed humanity. Eternal entrepreneurs, they are always looking for new tools and techniques to increase crop health, production, and yields. And yet the agriculture industry has been slow to adopt automation, lagging other sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, and transportation in the uptake of robots and AI. That has finally started to change—born out of necessity. With a global population of 8 billion today, and nearly 10 billion predicted by 2050, farmers must adopt automation to grow enough food for everyone. While also facing changing consumer demands (a predilection for organics, plant-centered diets, and unusual produce), labor shortages and plateauing productivity, and global environmental changes, farming is more challenging than ever before.

That’s why Calibrate is so excited to be an early backer of FarmWise, one of the most innovative ag-tech startups we’ve encountered over the last decade investing in automation companies. We led FarmWise’s $14.5 million Series A and since then have been hands-on partners with founder Sebastien Boyer and his team helping them grow into a leading ag-tech player. We helped the team recruit an independent director, made introductions to key ag players to refine their pricing strategy and product roadmap, and made introductions to growth investors. 

FarmWise is already delivering proven ROI to farmers. The company has deployed its robotic weeding tractors as a service at over a dozen farms since it launched in 2018 and has a head start in the fast-growing ag-tech sector. (We’re not the only VCs to see promise in the space. In 2020, VCs invested $6.1 billion into US ag-tech startups, a 60% increase over 2019, according to PitchBook.) The FarmWise robot automates one of the most painstaking and endless tasks on a farm, weeding, and offsets labor shortages and rising wage costs. Because FarmWise’s weeding machine eliminates the use of toxic herbicides, it also helps alleviate worker health and safety concerns and keep toxic chemicals out of the environment.

But what really makes FarmWise unique is its multifaceted approach to agricultural automation. Not only has it found a clear application for robotics in the field―autonomously identifying and removing weeds―but is also building the world’s largest database of plant images and characteristics. FarmWise’s robotic weeding tractor, dubbed Titan FT-35, deploys advanced AI and computer vision to scan every plant, capture images from multiple angles, and then analyze leaf size, structure, and shape to identify whether it’s a weed or a crop. Through this process, FarmWise has amassed a vast trove of over 200 million plant images, which could be monetized for myriad applications such as crop health and yield analysis, weed prevalence, and plant identification. These computer vision and machine learning algorithms will help FarmWise refine its current product offering while informing the future product roadmap and revenue streams.

For any ag-tech startup to win over farmers, it must solve a big problem and do it in a way that saves them significant time and/or money. While a manufacturer might be happy to deploy a robot for incremental improvement, farmers operate on exceedingly tight margins and want to see exponential improvement. FarmWise does just that, which is probably why its robot-weeder was named one of Time Magazine’s Best inventions of 2020 and listed on the Forbes AI 50 list in 2021.

FarmWise has a bright future and the Calibrate Ventures team looks forward to working closely with the company’s visionary founders to bring automation to more farmers than ever before. The time has come to automate the farm, and FarmWise is leading the pack with its practical, expandable, intelligent robot tractor.