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New business models needed to support farmer adoption of agri-tech

Agri-TechE Article
Muddy Machines Ltd Muddy Machines Ltd
Muddy Machines' Sprout v2-8
Muddy Machines’ Sprout v2-8

Robotic technology to help with harvesting is among the technologies highlighted at the NFU Conference as eligible for a grant. However, developers of robotics say the focus on equipment purchases in Farming Equipment and Technology Fund 2023 (FETF23) may not be the best model to support the adoption of agri-tech on-farm. 

Muddy Machines has developed a robotic platform that provides automated harvesting of asparagus. The equipment is flexible to enable the use of multiple tools for harvesting different crops and is to be made available on a service model.

There is just a 12-week window for harvesting and asparagus grows rapidly and shoots sporadically during this season, so precision and timing is vital, as John Chinn of Cobrey Farms, the UK’s largest growers of asparagus, explains. “It’s not about cutting costs of labour, but our inability to find it. We have a short season and this technology is vital if we are to harvest the crop.”

Muddy Machines developed its Sprout robot through trials on Chinn’s land. He added: “The Sprout machine is very impressive. It takes itself up and down the rows of asparagus and harvests it and puts it in a tray without causing any damage to the spears.”

Muddy Machines was founded in 2020 by Christopher Chavasse and Florian Richter with a vision to sustainably solve labour issues in farming with robots. It has developed a robotic platform that can deploy a variety of harvest tools in specialty field crops.

New business models needed

FETF23 enables funding for a defined list of equipment, but Florian Richter voices his reservations.

Muddy Machines presentation
Muddy Machines took part in the REAP 2021 Start-Up Showcase. Florian Richter, Founder and CEO talks to the chair, Nicole Sadd of Rothamsted Enterprises.

He says: “I’m disappointed to see that this scheme, again, seems only aimed at covering equipment purchases. This really only benefits the tried and tested, incumbent OEMs.

“If you look at cutting-edge agri-robotics technology, most of these machines are provided ‘as a service’. This ensures fast adoption on farms while ensuring that the provider is constantly on hand to ensure productivity and up-time.

“Moreover, these machines can then be re-used on other farms throughout the season instead of sitting idle in the shed.

“The FETF23 scheme should really also cover ‘Harvest as a Service’ or ‘Robotics as a Service’ propositions.”

The need for new business models to increase farmer adoption of technology was highlighted in a recent McKinsey Report.