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Laser weeding by WeedBot for minimum till cultivation

Meet the Network
SIA WeedBot SIA WeedBot

Laser weeding is going to be a game-changer in precision agriculture according to Jānis Jaško, CEO of WeedBot Ltd. The company, originally from Latvia has demonstrated its prototype and plans to launch a commercial unit in Spring 2022.
We asked Jānis about his plans for the company and why they chose the UK to set up the business.
WeedBot started as a research project as we were being asked by farmers in Latvia for an alternative to hand weeding.
As we explored the possibilities of using a laser beam, we saw the potential to offer an affordable, cost-efficient, chemical free weeder that offers precision and speed. So, we decided to set up a company to commercialize laser weeding technology.
In 15 months we have built 3 prototypes, of which latest one is a full-scale machinery that is attached to the tractor, and raised 190k EUR from investors in Latvia and UK.

Carrots are just the beginning

At WeedBot we started to develop our first product with clear focus on the problem and end-user. We selected carrot growers as our first target customers because there is a lot of manual work for this crop.
Our laser weeding system can recognize crop (at this moment carrots but other crops will be also added in couple of months), distinguish it from the weeds and zap the weeds with high power laser light.
There are other companies developing different high precision weeding systems (robotic arms, electricity, microwaves, spot herbicide spraying, small hoes), but there are several advantages to our approach:
Precision – laser treats weeds very close to the crop – just a few millimetres away.
Very fast – as we don’t need to move heavy equipment and light travels at ..the speed of light!
No chemicals involved and less CO2 emissions – no environment hazard;
Minimal disruption of soil – laser treats weed parts that are above surface so there is no movement of soils

Setting up in the UK

We choose UK as our first market in Europe for several reasons: it is one of the largest carrot growing countries, it has a consolidated organic carrot grower network and a well-developed innovation ecosystem.
We participated in Riga-Cambridge Venture Camp in 2021 and as part of this spent one week in Cambridge engaging with local start-up ecosystem. Alan Barrell has been our business mentor since then.
This encouraged us to set up a subsidiary in the UK, and we have had a good service from DIT; introducing the business environment in UK (luckily it is not too different from Latvia but there are several peculiarities) as well providing introductions to local service providers. This is so important when you are totally new in the country. I liked that DIT are proactive and it was great to see our contact Jane at our demo in Shropshire.

Demonstration gained good feedback

It is important for us to engage with growers as much as possible and get their feedback as often as possible.
Due to Covid and Brexit it was not so easy (compared to three years ago) to bring machinery to UK for demo so we were pleased that everything went well and we were able to be in the field and showcase our development.
We were grateful to Nick Tayler farm for hosting us and providing all the support necessary to be able to demonstrate laser weeder in the carrot field.
It is always a bit tricky when demonstrating equipment to end users that is not 100% finished yet – so I do my best to explain what is current development stage and the functionalities that are going to be added or enhanced a bit later.
We are happy for any feedback – as we get external validation on things that work well as well things that needs to be improved either in the machinery or in our way how we present it.
There are differences between countries – climate, weed species, soil type – but the need to keep weed pressure low is universal. I would say that difference between large and small farm within one country is more substantial than between large farmers in different countries. As we primarily work with large growers, they seems quite similar through Europe, at least from our perspective.

Benefits of the agri-tech ecosystem 

As several in our team have an academic background in agriculture engineering it was very interesting to visit Engineering Department at Harper Adams University. It was good to see that drones, robotics and sensors networks are in the research spotlight here. I really liked the Hands-Free Hectare concept that has now evolved in Hands Free Farm.
I`ve always be a fan of applied research so this is very good way how bring research closer to producers and vice versa – allow companies to test and demonstrate their latest products for researchers, students and wider audience. Harper Adams also has a research project looking at laser usage in weed control so we had good in-depth conversation about this.

Commercial laser weeding to launch in 2022

Our next large milestone is to deliver first commercial unit for UK growers in Spring next year. We also plan to add at least 2 more crops to our recognition software, to expand application of the laser weeder.
To accomplish that we are now actively looking for investors as we plan to rise 2M EUR as our next funding round in the coming few months. We already have 3 investors/shareholders from UK from our previous round which was kindly organized by Cambridge Agritech at the beginning of this year.
RB Organic (large organic carrot and other vegetable grower) is one of our shareholders with whom we keep close relationship and I think they are an excellent example of how forward-thinking growers are investing in agri-tech start-ups.
This is beneficial in two ways – firstly, it provides financial capital to develop the technology and second (maybe even more important) it provides an indication for institutional investors that technology is desired from end-users.
Besides the investment round, we are planning to recruit new members of which Chief Business Development Officer would be the most senior position.
So, raising general awareness about WeedBot and informing about our near future plans is a great added value from being a member of Agri-TechE.