Japanese drone company Nileworks has raised a ¥800 million ($7.12 million) financing round to expand the capabilities of its automated crop sprayer drones.
The round, which the company expects to close later this month, includes a group of Japanese investors including public-private partnership the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, agricultural chemical maker Kumiai Chemical Industry Co., one of Japan’s largest companies Sumitomo Corporation and its subsidiary Sumitomo Chemical Co., the Japanese National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations, and The Norinchukin Bank.
Nileworks claims its multi-copter drones are able to see the shape of a field and spray just 30cm above, thereby reducing drift. Nileworks will use the new funds to accelerate improvements on its automated drone, refining its “crop health and growth diagnostic technology,” according to a press release. The company is also seeking to add diagnostic capabilities to the drones, enabling them to decide how much pesticide is necessary based on the appearance of the crop.
The Tokyo-based company, founded in 2015, will target rice farmers in Japan when the product goes on sale in 2019 but says it will move on to other rice-producing countries in Asia in 2020. The company plans to sell the hardware itself, as the drones are automated and do not require operators. Each drone can carry up to one liter of pesticide at a time and fly for 20 minutes, covering 1 hectare.
A similar group of investors, including the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, the Norinchukin Bank and Sumitomo Corporation, all contributed to an investment round for Japan’s Farmnote, a Japanese startup manufacturing wearable technology to collect data from cattle, in May.
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Agrifood tech deals in Japan have followed global trends over the last few years, according to AgFunder data, peaking in 2015 with $107.5 million of investment. Investment in Japanese agrifood tech startups dropped 77% between 2015 and 2016 to just $25 million of funding. Funding levels in the first half of 2017 suggest that the sector is unlikely to bounce back in 2017 as startups raised just $9.5 million in H1-2017.