Aussie agtech startup The Yield has partnered up with ASX-listed vino giant Treasury Wine Estates and global tech leader Yamaha Motor Co on an R&D project aimed at improving autonomous crop spraying using robots, and better predicting the yield of wine grapes.
Founded in 2014 by managing director Ros Harvey, The Yield uses Internet of Things technology as well as data science and artificial intelligence to tackle challenges in farming, and throughout the food supply chain.
Its Sensing+ solution focuses on the microclimate of a crop, using sensors and analytics to provide data and predictions to farmers, informing decisions on when to irrigate, feed, plant or harvest.
The 18-month project will pair this tech with Yamaha’s autonomous farming robots and follows The Yield’s $11 million funding round last year, which was led by Yamaha Motor Ventures.
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The aim is to improve the accuracy of grape harvest predictions through data gathering, and to test and develop the robot technology, integrating data to automate spraying, and achieving maximum efficiency.
Trials begin in Australia later this year, and on the West Coast of the US early next year.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Harvey says the project is “really exciting” for The Yield.
“We have world-leading AI technology, Yamaha has world-leading robotics technology, and Treasury is a world-leading wine producer,” she says.
“You bring those three capabilities together to demonstrate the commercial application is obviously very exciting from a product development roadmap, but also the deal is linked to a commercial go-to-market strategy within 18 months,” she says.
At the same time, she says she’s also excited about what this could mean for the agriculture industry more broadly.
“The industry is really crying out for the pulling together of platforms to create integrated solutions.”
Operators in this sector need solutions to ‘systems’ problems, she adds, rather than just single-point solutions, which don’t scale in the way that is required in agriculture.
“Agriculture isn’t a set of single tasks,” she says.
“It’s a set of integrated decisions that you make on this sea of uncertainty created by weather, to get the best possible outcome from the resources we have.”
The deal is also indicative of an accelerated use of technology across all segments of agriculture. Just weeks ago, agtech-focused venture capital firm Tenacious Ventures raised its first $35 million to back startups in the space.
There’s an increasing need for investment in tech, to make production more profitable and more environmentally sustainable.
It’s driving them to run “data-driven businesses”, Harvey adds.
They can use just the right amount of spray at just the right time, causing minimal impact the the surrounding environment.
“That’s good for the industry and it’s good for the planet.”
Greg Pearce, general manager of company vineyards at Treasury Wine Estates noted in a statement that TWE is committed to “taking an integrated approach to sustainability”, both in terms of managing risk and taking advantage of new opportunities.
“TWE is focused on cultivating a brighter future for everyone who touches our business,” he added.
“This includes investing in new technology and innovations to adapt to the climate trends impacting our business.”