Following the recent press release, we are pleased to announce our investment in Saga Robotics and their autonomous Thorvald agricultural robots. We see great potential in the technology and are joining other investors such as the Norwegian sovereign climate investment company Nysnø, London-based ADM Capital Europe LLP and Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund, the investment arm of the Dutch agricultural bank Rabobank.
If automation of labour-intensive tasks was not obvious before, the Covid-19 crisis made it even more so. Particularly in food production and farming, we are facing shortages of manual labor. If farms were struggling to find enough workers before the crisis, getting them across borders these days is challenging. Another looming and significantly larger risk is the climate crisis: this will challenge the efficiency and sufficient scale-up of food production, but also entail issues such as land degradation and resistance to pesticides.
Observing these larger trends, we have been tracking robotics and AI-cases in agriculture for a long time. We are therefore very happy to announce our first investment in a Norwegian and UK-based agricultural robotics company, Saga Robotics. Saga creates autonomous and modular multipurpose agricultural robots that can operate 24/7 and only need an internet connection, access to power, and docking to work. The first commercial products are autonomous robots for UV light treatment mainly of mildew (which also has proven effects against viruses and bacteria in food production), autonomous harvesting, and several other tools under development. UV treatment is an efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to the use of fungicides. The second module currently on offer is a harvester of soft fruits, which operates fully autonomous with 90% accuracy, works continuously at high speed - even at night - and can check qualities while picking.
The modular components of the Saga robots can efficiently be integrated and easily configured to most farming environments such as open fields, greenhouses, orchards and tunnels. Its modular approach enables low cost even at small-scale production and efficient and cost-effective upscaling of production. In addition to its modular nature, the multipurpose platform distinguishes Saga from its competitors, potentially serving all farmers’ agri-robotics needs down the road. The positive impact of the robots goes even beyond increased efficiency of food production, as the electrically operated robots do no directly emit CO2, do not compress soils and reduce the overall use of pesticides.
The team at Saga is impressive, with a mix of agricultural robotics expertise, particularly with the CEO as Professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and University of Lincoln (UK), and strong robotics operations and commercial experience. We are pleased to invest in cooperation with a strong and complementary investor group: the Norwegian climate fund Nysnø, the food production giant ADM, the Dutch Rabobank and successful robotics entrepreneur Jakob Hatteland.
With the first commercial products launched, the initial traction has been strong in the UK and Norway with increasing interest from the US. The farming-as-a-service business model enables early testing and easy scale-up. Saga can thus readily integrate, and with the continuous expansion of its fleet ensure a full transition to autonomous farming. The agriculture market is quickly adjusting to new autonomous solutions, also with established players seeking to acquire new capabilities in autonomous farming (e.g. John Deere’s acquisition of Blue River). The Covid-19 crisis could equally leapfrog the market for fully autonomous agri-robotics by positively changing the mentality towards autonomous work and encourage early adoption.