Australian ag machinery start-up SwarmFarm Robotics has raised $12 million in capital to invest in improving its futuristic autonomous platform, with the company promising farmers “customised autonomy in a box”. Founded in 2015, the Queensland-based manufacturer is credited with pioneering the development and use of intelligent robotics in Australian agriculture through what it has dubbed “integrated autonomy”. SwarmFarm defines integrated autonomy as “a new approach to autonomy on-farm that unlocks the full potential of driverless technology by providing specialty robotics solutions with an open platform to develop on”. The company this month announced its “series A” funding round — led by Emmertech, an AgTech fund from Canada-based firm Conexus Venture Capital — had raised $12m. The funding also included new investment from Tribe Global Ventures, Access Capital and existing investors including GrainInnovate — the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s venture capital fund managed by investment management firm Artesian — and Tenacious Ventures. The money will go towards further developing SwarmFarm’s SwarmBot platform and SwarmConnect operating system network. Chief executive Andrew Bate said the company aimed to help farmers grow better crops without using excessive amounts of chemicals or acquiring larger equipment. “We hit a point where we just said ‘enough is enough’,” he said. “We saw our input costs increasing and our equipment costs rising as we bought larger equipment, our dependence on pesticides rising and our yields declining despite it all. “There was a day when we sat down and realised this wasn’t an equation that needed incremental change; we needed an entirely new farming system.” Mr Bate, who founded the company on his family farm near Emerald, said there was “enormous demand” for autonomy in agriculture but “most solutions unlock minimal potential”. “The current equipment providers believe farmers just want to be plucked from the cab or replaced by robotic arms,” he said. “We believe farmers want more. They want a technology ecosystem built to address the issues in their locality: a farm-centric system that leaves the lowest possible footprint on their fields, helping them do more with less. “While many companies are making driverless tractors and developing niche robotics solutions in agriculture today, we believe there is a third category of autonomy that combines the robot and the application within a development framework that will allow farmers to customise their equipment for their needs and allow developers to bring their innovations to life much more rapidly. “It’s the best of both worlds: for the farmer, we provide customised autonomy in a box; for the developer, we provide a streamlined path to the grower with a tight feedback loop.” Mr Bate said SwarmFarm envisioned a future where developers could create specialised tools that could be attached to swarms of small, nimble, autonomous robot platforms that create new farming practices through facilitating collaboration between farmers and technologists. “We also believe in a future where there is no longer such a severe distinction between farmers and technologists, but rather a new breed of farmer-technologists,” he said. “This funding helps us to move toward that future by meeting more of the global demand for our product and facilitating the growth of our SwarmConnect network of developers.” SwarmFarm already serves customers across Australia and works with a host of farm equipment developers including WEED-IT, Bilberry, Weedseeker, Hayes Spraying, Rasmussen Brothers Engineering, Goldacres and Croplands. The company estimates its SwarmBots have operated for a combined 64,000 hours, covering more than 1.3 million commercial acres and reducing pesticide inputs by 780 tons. Emmertech managing director Sean O’Connor said SwarmFarm was “pioneering the future of autonomous agriculture”. He said Emmertech — a $60 million venture capital fund focused on agtech and agribusiness innovation — was attracted by SwarmFarm’s “farmer-centric approach” and the “truly exceptional results their robots have achieved”. “We met several farmers who were putting upwards of 3000 hours a year on their SwarmBot, often leaving them out in the fields for over 24 hours at a time,” Mr O’Connor said. “We believe there’s a future where SwarmBots can be found on farms across North America and worldwide.” GRDC head of business development Fernando Felquer said while SwarmFarm’s autonomous solutions were being developed with Australian farming systems in mind, the technology had global application. Tenacious Ventures co-founder and managing partner Sarah Nolet said putting tools in farmers’ hands that “help them do more with less” would be the key to a “climate-resilient, profitable future for agriculture”.