Augean Robotics, a startup building autonomous farm equipment, and Rogo, an automated soil testing startup, both won awards at Farmers Business Network‘s (FBN) first startup pitch contest last week.
Both companies will be featured on FBN Direct Marketplace for free for a year, a platform that connects farmers with exclusive FBN-member discounts from companies farmers know, use frequently and love.
Held at FBN’s annual Farmer2Farmer conference, the pitch contest featured six agtech startups, each given six minutes to pitch their technologies in front of an audience of nearly 3,000.
FBN selected the six startups from nearly 100 that applied in partnership with AgFunder.
Six judges questioned the startups after their pitches and scored them to select the Judges’ Choice Award winner: Augean Robotics.
Augean Robotics is a Californian startup using computer vision and artificial intelligence to build robots that can perform certain labor-intensive tasks on the farm. Its first robot, called the Burro (Spanish for donkey) aims to help solve one of the biggest crises for American farming today: a shortage of labor. Over the last decade, there has been a 20% decline in the number of farmworkers in the US, with 75% of US crop workers immigrants and an increasing average farmworker rate of $13.25 an hour.
Starting with the fruit, vegetable, and nursery crop industry, where 84% of US farm laborers work and do most tasks by hand, the Burro follows workers around and carries cargo. The company has run paid trials with Driscoll’s, SunWorld, Grapery, and California Table Grape Commission. The startup believes it has a first-mover advantage and is planning to raise a $2 million seed round next year.
Jenny Schweigert, a farmer from Illinois, Will Scholze, a farmer from Wisconsin, Nancy Pfund, founder at impact investment firm DBL Partners, Tom Field, the director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, Louisa Burwood-Taylor, head of media at AgFunder, and FBN product team member Jordan Taylor were the judges.
Rogo, a startup from Indiana, has built an autonomous soil testing machine to help farmers make a decision on what it says it the third largest cost on the farm; crop fertility. The problem with how soil testing is done today — where farmers often collect samples themselves and send them off for testing in a lab — includes inconsistent soil sampling depth, and the accidental mixing of soil samples, which can skew test results. This creates an average 20% error in soil sampling, according to Rogo.
SmartCore, Rogo’s automated soil testing robot, ensures repeatability in depth, sampling protocols, and location, and provides a one-stop shop service from sample to fertility recommendations. The startup impressed the farmers in the audience who voted for it to win the Farmers Choice Award.
Motivated Farmers Excited about Tech Advancements
Farmer2Farmer, which is in its fourth year, attracted the largest number of attendees at almost 3,000 to hear panel discussions on different farming practices, challenging business decisions, and high profile keynote speakers from other industries including Captain Sully Sullenberger who crash-landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in New York in 2009. The best-attended breakout session was about regenerative and no-till farming.
Farmers also heard about new offerings from FBN including the F2F Genetics Network, FBN’s seed business for high performing, non-GMO and glyphosate-tolerant crops, and its partnership with Amazon Business. FBN also officially launched its last venture: FBN Health.
By leveraging the purchasing power of its 7,500 strong network, FBN can lower health insurance premiums much like large companies can do, and so it says it can pass those savings straight to the farmer. In many cases, FBN expects that eligible FBN members will see significant savings over the healthcare premiums they get individually.
FBN Health has created four different plans that offer:
– Health coverage for the entire farm family – including farm employees: Medical, dental and vision
– Free, 24/7 telephone access to a doctor—at $0 co-pay—so farmers don’t have to waste any time driving to town when there’s a medical question or need
– Extensive regional and national networks of providers based across the country
“Healthcare is one of the greatest personal risks facing farm families – from the rising and unpredictable healthcare costs to the actual health and well-being of the family itself,” said Lucas Strom, head of Insurance at FBN. “Our members have been asking us to find a solution that’s affordable, has options and is easy to navigate, and we believe FBN Health is one giant step in the right direction.”
Farmers speaking to AgFunderNews on the sidelines of the event were very excited about the potential for FBN Health.
“FBN Health in my mind is huge and I think it could double FBN’s membership; the FBN snowball is picking up speed,” said Steve Pitstick from Northern Illinois.
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**This post was sponsored by Farmers Business Network, an AgFunder Network Partner. Find out more here.