This week I gave a sneak preview of Small Robot Company in the start-up showcase at Agri-Tech REAP conference. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to talk at the conference, which was run by Agri-Tech East. I’m a big fan of Belinda Clarke’s work with Agri-Tech East - I’ve worked with her before and the aims of the REAP Conference match very closely with our beliefs at Small Robot Company and what we are trying to achieve.
The theme of REAP 2017 was “Today’s Knowledge Meets Tomorrow’s Technology,” with a strong focus on no-till agriculture.
REAP was therefore the perfect platform to unveil our robots, and our Farming as a Service offering, since we will follow a "no-till" approach with our robots. This is a technological leap forward with enormous environmental benefits. Lightness reduces compaction, and improves soil health without chemicals.
Coupled with this, we add data to the mix, and ‘digitise’ the field to deliver precision farming. Robust per-plant data creates a ‘profit map’ that shows which areas of field to use, which to leave fallow. What to plant where and when to maximise yield. You can look at the data as it comes in from the field to make decisions which will take into account agronomy, soil science and market conditions. This makes it possible for smaller farms to be profitable, and for 10x better decision making.
We’ve worked hard this year to develop our prototype robots, and it was really exhilarating to hear what everyone had to say when they heard our story. There was huge enthusiasm for the work that Small Robot Company is doing and excitement that the application of robotics as a service could make a big difference to farming.
Agri-Tech East is a really broad network of people interested in both technology and agriculture. It definitely had a very different atmosphere, and had attracted a very different group of people, to other agriculture industry events I’ve attended. There was a wide cross-section of the industry there, including technologists, academics, farmers, researchers, machinery sales people, VCs and so on.
Perhaps most importantly, it was an event full of people who were excited about the opportunities that technology will bring to agriculture. The emphasis of the conference was around what we can do, both as individual companies and as a wider network, to use technology to make food production and farming safer, more efficient, more productive.
What came through very strongly in my conversations at the conference was that farming needs to do more to adopt technology that already exists into the industry, and that farming, and in particular farm management, needs to become a fully digitised process. Without these changes to the industry, the best that we can hope for are incremental improvements on a linear growth curve. Once the industry is digitised, exponential improvements become possible for the first time. There was also an acceptance in the farming community that current farming practices are not sustainable. Not in terms of productivity, nor profitability, and certainly not environmentally.
The time for a step change has arrived. We’re thrilled to be joining the agri-tech community at such an exciting time. As farmers, we are the custodians of the land. In our hands is the future of the soil, and the future of food. Let’s work together to take farming forward.