Agtonomy: Farming-as-a-Service Alleviates Extreme Labor Shortages
Over the centuries, farmers have had to adapt to a variety of challenges, from weather to infestations. Small farmers, about 80% of farmers globally, have shouldered much of the burden. Today’s farmers face a perfect storm of not only climate change, soil erosion, and depleting fresh water reserves, but also extreme labor shortages.
Skilled labor costs have continued to climb, particularly in rural areas, where labor is increasingly unavailable due to access to “remote” jobs and a continued migration to urban environments. The average age of an agricultural operator is 59. As operators retire, fewer young farmers are filling these shoes. Farmers under the age of 35 account for 9% of the total population (source: AgAmerica Lending).
We are also facing a looming food crisis. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals states:
“If we are to nourish the more than 690 million people who are hungry today — and the additional 2 billion people the world will have by 2050. Increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable food production are crucial to help alleviate the perils of hunger.”
Sustainability is another challenge. Off road agricultural equipment released about 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 (source: EPA). This is equal to 11.2 million gallons of gasoline consumption, or 110 million pounds of coal burned. Older diesel-powered tractors spew pollutants like particulate matter and carbon monoxide, enough to visibly dirty the air around them.
These challenges demand that farmers increase farm productivity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and inspire local production. A renewed focus on local farming with autonomy and electrified farming equipment is a clear solution. It’s quite another to equip both a large tractor ($500K) and a small tractor ($50K) with the same advanced technology.
This is exactly what Agtonomy has set out to do.
Announcing our Investment in Agtonomy
Grit Ventures is pleased to announce our investment in Agtonomy’s recent seed round. Agtonomy, a hybrid autonomy and tele-assist farming-as-a-service platform, has raised an additional $5 million in Seed II funding from strategic and venture investors Toyota Ventures, Flybridge, Hampton VC, E²JDJ and Momenta, for a total of $9 million in seed funding to date. Grit led the Seed I round and Jennifer Roberts serves on the board.
What Agtonomy is Doing
Agtonomy is developing a next generation all-terrain autonomous vehicle and service platform to tackle the challenge of agricultural labor shortages and rising costs in farming. The service-based business model combines manual, tele-operate and autonomous modes for Farming-as-a-Service. Initial pilots are focused on steep slope use cases, including vineyards and fire prevention maintenance, and will eventually include specialty crop maintenance and large scale property maintenance.
Why We are Impressed
The founders and technical team at Agtonomy are truly exceptional. The founders, Tim Bucher and Val Syme are repeat entrepreneurs with a history of successful collaboration. Farming is personal for the co-founder and CEO of Agtonomy, Tim Bucher. Tim grew up on a dairy farm and has run his own farm, Trattore Farms, for decades. He is one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific and successful founders, having served as an executive at technology market leaders including Apple, Microsoft and Seagate.
When I asked Tim why he felt driven to solve the local agriculture challenge, he said,
“Autonomous passenger transportation and autonomous food delivery technologies are what I call ‘conveniences.’ Our mission at Agtonomy is not to use technology to create convenient services, but rather to create services that are a global necessity such as helping to solve the labor shortage in local agriculture so that good food is available to everyone.”
Agtonomy is pioneering autonomous electric vehicles, alongside a new business model to help local farmers. Agtonomy is essentially the “On-star service” across multiple platforms: Farming-as-a-Service including mowing, precision weeding, spraying, and on.
At Grit, we believe the time for Clean Machine Revolution is now.
The Clean Machine Revolution is the next wave of innovation in America, rooted in deep technology. The stakes are high, and the economic opportunity virtually unlimited. The very real problems of supply chain security, labor shortages, American innovation competitiveness and climate change require new solutions and a fresh perspective — driven by entrepreneurs, venture capital, and importantly, emerging managers.
Welcome to the Grit portfolio, Agtonomy!