Red Wing Ignite Ag Tech Challenge Final Pitch: One word – robotics

Last night I attended a fun event at Red Wing Ignite. It featured a few experts in the ag tech (aka food tech) field and three presentations from entrepreneurs looking to get a start (of $10,000) to explore a future for their tech ideas.

I don’t have line-by-line notes as I often do but I walked away with some general impressions.

Brett Brohl, from Techstars Farm to Fork, pointed out that farmers generally have about 35 chances (seasons/years) to make money in their career. So while they are always interested in technology and how to farm better, they want to see solutions with a proven ROI. When Brohl looks at investing, he looks at the team and diversity in team (inventor, marketer, business versus 3 investors) more than any one project idea. Brian Carroll, from Emerging Prairie, talked about creating community assets to spur ag technology – including makerspaces, business accelerators and building 21st century skills.

The set the stage for learning about three projects that were finalists for the fabulous prize:

  • Drainage Monitoring and Control – The goal of the project is to significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural fields by implementing a monitoring and control system that can respond in real time to rain and soil conditions.
  • Robotic Sod Farm Weeder – Robotic weed pickers can be used to reduce/eliminate herbicide use on farms. Sod farms provide an easy landscape for robotic weed picker deployments.
  • Poultry Patrol – A semi-autonomous robotic system to assist in poultry farm tasks like detecting dead birds, training birds to lay eggs in the correct place, disinfecting feces, turning soil, retrieving eggs, and giving the grower an inside camera view wherever they are.

Robotics are certainly emerging. In the food industry, they are reducing the pain of labor shortages and safety concerns. As someone said, last night, robots don’t forget to wash their hands and of course you don’t have to worry about injury to a robot in the same way you do a human. Some of what we saw last night was the sweet spot for robots doing mindless chores – the kind that for me might cause inattention and accident. One of the issues right now is making the robots more affordable.

I could see in the beauty of a place like Red Wing Ignite – where techies can meet farmers and others on the frontlines. Farmers know the needs and potential for ROI; techies know what can robots do and what they can’t.

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