Following an intensive round of interviews, our six finalists took to the floor to compete for a game changing investment to transform their business.
Since this year’s Agri-Innovation Den competition launched in spring, we have received a huge response from a wide variety of global entrepreneurs, all looking for investment, marketing support and business advice.
Launched by Farmers Guardian’s parent company AgriBriefing in 2015, the competition invites agricultural entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to our panel of industry judges and potential investors.
Last week, our six finalists travelled to Farm491 in Cirencester to present their agri businesses to a four-strong panel of judges.
Heading up the panel is Neil Thackray, Co-Founder of Agri-Briefing; Ben Briggs, Editor of Farmers Guardian; Michael Wagner, Business Director for the BASF Agricultural Solutions business in Northern Europe and Dr Claus Hackmann, BASF Venture Capital GmbH Investment Manager.
Co-founder Ben Scott-Robinson says the business is revolutionising arable farming with easy, low-cost, service of light, autonomous, precision agri-robotics.
The robotics are controlled by an AI-based operating system called Wilma. Tom who lives on the farm, continuously collects real time data per plant. Wilma converts this into instructions for Dick who cares for the crop through non-chemical weeding and precision spraying and Harry who precision plants to the perfect depth and spacing with no ploughing.
Together, they will reduce inputs by 90 per cent, while increasing yield and is designed to scale to any size farm.
Farmers do not buy the robots, they pay £400/year for the service delivery of a healthy wheat crop.
What the judges said: “The potential to use AI to minimise input costs and maximise yield is a compelling proposition. If the team can prove the business solution, whereby farmers pay a modest fee for access to the robots and their operators, is truly scaleable at a commercial return then The Small Robot Company could be part of a huge revolution in the way farming is done.”
Co-founders Paul, James and Andrew Wright use insects to extract nutrition from food which is unsuitable for consumption and would otherwise end up in landfill or anaerobic digestion.
The trio have engineered, procured, constructed and commissioned an insect farm capable of producing 35 tonnes of insects per annum, which can be fed to livestock as an alternative source of protein.
Paul says the value of fish meal has increased three-fold in the last decade and insect protein can replace it. Insect protein has a better food conversion ratio per kg than pig, poultry and beef production and makes use of low-value foodstuffs, turning them into a useful product. The fats from insects can also replace soy, palm and other vegetable oils found in swine and poultry feeds.
What the judges said? "This is a truly innovative approach to the global protein shortage. The team has demonstrated the technology can work but there is some way to go in showing this can be done at scale in a way that will bring the cost down. While there was some concern consumers might not yet be ready to accept this solution in the food chain that will surely come with time.”
Co-Founder Charles Guy designs irrigation and control technology for indoor farms. His patent-pending aeroponic technology, growing plants without soil, delivers consistently high yields for vertical and glasshouse farms.
Having demonstrated significant yield increases using the technology, the company is now building commercial aeroponic systems for growers around the UK. Services range from the supply of aeroponic growing systems to the integration of farm management software, to crop analysis and testing services, through to full indoor farm design and build.
Having successfully demonstrated both innovations in a commercial vertical farm, the crop-trial exhibited an average increase of more than 150 per cent in crop growth rate of microgreens compared to industry-standard hydroponic technology.
What the judges said: “The aeroponics technology is compelling but the business still has some way to go to demonstrate this works as a business model. The proof of concept is encouraging and the next stage of showing how this can be done at scale and at a build cost that will really challenge the status quo.”
As a technology provider, co-founder Charles Veys and his team are looking to empower the latest farm machinery by providing insight into the crop status. For example, a FOTENIX enabled sprayer would automate variable application of chemical inputs, to maximise efficacy and reduce residual build-up. They are able to do this thanks to a camera method, often used in laboratories where samples are sent for analysis, now they have made it small and efficient enough to go in field. Co-founder Charles Veys is also currently exploring other uses for the system, such as yield analysis and are looking to develop partners and field trials over the next year.
What the judges said: “Using multi spectral photography Fotenix promises to able to identify in real time plant disease and ripeness. The three dimensional capabilities of the technology are a real game changer. We want to see how the dictionary of plants could be built and to see how the interpretive capabilities of the software would work beyond the proof of concept example shown in the presentation.”
Breedr is the brainchild of Ian Wheal and home of precision livestock; the world’s first app for farmers that uses shared data to improve profitability by increasing yield and quality while reducing wastage.
The free and easy-to-use app lets farmers track and manage animals on-the-go, integrating with UK regulatory systems to save time.
From identifying the best sire/dam parings to predicting when they will be on-track, in-spec and ready to sell, Breedr aims to maximise profits.
Founder Ian Wheal is helping farmers develop direct trading relationships with major buyers looking for high quality livestock, generating higher returns when they sell online.
The platform is currently trialling with a small number of the UK’s most innovative livestock farmers and research organisations, ahead of its launch in January.
What the judges said: “What BreedR promises is to improve both quality (they claim that 49 per cent of supplied carcasses are ‘out of spec’) and provenance. By providing an end to end platform where farmers and buyers can collaborate, they calculate profit/animal might grow by as much as £400 and buyers can have complete traceability and quality assurance.”
This precision engineering and data intelligence company, aims to empower the livestock industry to run sustainable and efficient production systems.
With a focus on animal health, fertility and farm operations, Smartbell monitors the herd, infrastructure and environment to send prioritised alerts to help farmers and their service providers to improve their management of these areas. To the farmer, the product offered is a simple wearable device for the animal that provides alerts for pre-defined conditions. For an advanced service contract, suitable for large farms, aggregate reports, best practices and regional metrics are available.
What the judges said: “When livestock farmers are under tremendous margin pressure this approach has the makings of something that could really make a difference. The opportunity to aggregate this data to produce benchmark statistics is really exciting. All this business needs now is a collection of compelling case studies to prove the value to livestock farmers.”