Robot farming business seeks $14m for commercial launch

SwarmFarm seeks $14m to help robotic cropping unit launch


Agribusiness
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SwarmFarm Robotics expects to generate annual earnings of about $50 million by 2023 after commercialising its autonomous farm robots this year.

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Central Queensland-based agricultural technology pioneer, SwarmFarm Robotics, is poised to start commercial production of its “SwarmBot” mini driverless tractors, with help from about $14 million of fresh investment capital.

The company, which operates from the Bate family’s Emerald district cattle and cropping property at Gindie, has just launched a capital raising effort through business advisory giant PWC to help fund its commercial agenda.

Financial projections for SwarmFarm Robotics suggest initial positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) by 2020-21, growing to $50m by 2023.

Early versions of the lightweight, sensor-guided autonomous units – slightly larger in size than a farm quad bike – already operate in paddock teams on the family’s Central Highlands farm.

The research prototypes have been powered by 18 kilowatt diesel motors, working at about eight kilometres an hour, spot spraying weeds and mowing.

We believe this is the ideal platform to deliver the next wave of agricultural technology to farmers around the world - Jocie Bate, SwarmFarm

Hydraulic and electronic components can be easily swapped or replaced if required. 

The first commercial-scale prototype is about to built in Victoria with help from development partner and driverless car technology leader, Bosch.

Bosch is providing mechanical engineering expertise, system design knowledge and manufacturing and component supply for the SwarmBot platform.

The first of 50 commercial units are expected for release to farmers from mid-year on a managed lease basis for a monthly fee likely to be about $6000.

The SwarmFarm technology aims to lift farming system productivity by using the small, high-tech robotic gear in fleets, or swarms, for key broadacre and horticultural cropping system tasks, including planting, weed and pest control, fertiliser application and harvesting.

SwarmFarm director and co-founder, Jocie Bate, said the SwarmBot robots, mounted with eight-metre spray booms, had achieved a level of consistency and cost efficiency unattainable using traditional farming methods on the family’s farm.

“We believe this is the ideal platform to deliver the next wave of agricultural technology to farmers around the world,” said Mrs Bate, whose husband, Andrew, developed the original concept in 2010.

The project evolved from his partnership with robotics teams at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney and the Farm Robotics Unit at Queensland University of Technology.

Mr Bate said once up and running commercially, SwarmFarm’s robotic technology would generate a regular investment return from the SwarmBot leases and sale of replacement parts, plus provision of ongoing software upgrade and related technology support to farmers over the life of each unit.

SwarmFarm business development director, Neville Crook, says farmers worldwide are lining up to use the technology.

SwarmFarm business development director, Neville Crook, says farmers worldwide are lining up to use the technology.

“Innovative farmers have been watching SwarmFarm’s progress with keen interest ever since our concept bots were demonstrated in 2015,” he said.

“They’re incredibly keen to access this technology.” 

In fact, farmer enquiries from around the world have been “phenomenal”, according to SwarmFarm business development director, Neville Crook, who said producers were lining up expecting the gear to be already available to the market.

He expected full scale production would see models brought to the market two at a time from about July.

Bosch Australia president, Gavin Smith, said farmers were ready to enter the fourth revolution in agriculture, harnessing the power and potential of automation, sensing equipment, cloud computing and real-time data usage.

“We are delighted to be partnering with SwarmFarm to help bring about this transformation in Australian farming and the rest of the world,” he said.

Also on board as a global business partner is crop protection chemical company, Adama, a division global giant, ChemChina.

“Adama is thrilled to partner with SwarmFarm and to help take this young innovative Australian company to the world.” said strategy and resources senior vice president, Dani Harari.

PwC Australia will act as SwarmFarm’s lead financial advisor for the capital raising and business growth phase during the next two years.

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The story Robot farming business seeks $14m for commercial launch first appeared on Farm Online.

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