Agri-robotics start-up raises £250k for revolutionary system to improve crop yields
A Shropshire start-up which aims to use cutting-edge technologies to help farmers improve crop yields has raised £250,000 from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF).
The funding will allow Earth Rover to launch its first product, a ‘crop scouting’ system which predicts the size and timing of harvests. The Earth Rover system uses cameras fitted to a tractor to scan the plants and measure their growth as the vehicle passes through the fields on routine farm operations. The data is then analysed using artificial intelligence (AI) housed in a supercomputer on board the tractor.
Crop scouting is traditionally carried out by farmers walking the field. Earth Rover aims to provide more accurate predictions to help them produce the right number of crops – enough to meet contracts with buyers while avoiding food waste that has to be ploughed back into the fields. It also helps farmers plan their harvesting labour requirements.
The system, which is suitable for high value crops such as broccoli and lettuce, is currently being trialled at Polybell Farm in Doncaster, one of the UK’s leading organic vegetable producers. Earth Rover will initially target growers in the UK and Spain, which has a year-round season. The company, which has been funded so far through angel investment and by a contract with the European Space Agency, is also working on robotic systems for herbicide-free weeding and harvesting.
The MEIF funding will be paid in two tranches over the next 12 months subject to commercial milestones and will allow the company to fund current trials and bring the product to market.
David Whitewood, CEO of Earth Rover, said:
“Technologies such as AI and robotics have revolutionised manufacturing in recent years, yet agriculture has suffered from a lack of investment and still relies on traditional techniques. At a time when we face the challenge of feeding a growing population with limited land and labour supplies, it is time for agriculture to undergo the same transformation. At Earth Rover we aim to play a leading role in the digitisation of farming to make the industry more productive and sustainable.”
David Baker, Investment Manager at Mercia, added:
“Vegetable growers routinely overplant crops due to the difficulty in predicting yields and the need to fulfil stringent contracts with supermarkets. This pushes up costs and means that much of the crop simply rots in the fields, creating additional carbon emissions. We believe Earth Rover’s system could help increase crop yields by 5 per cent and reduce costs by a similar amount. This funding will help the company to prove its value and launch into the market.”
Ryan Cartwright, Senior Manager at the British Business Bank, said:
“This latest equity investment is a great example of the innovative Midlands’ businesses that the MEIF seeks to support. The funding will help Earth Rover as it begins to commercialise its technology and we’d encourage other start-ups within Shropshire and the Marches area to consider the options available through the MEIF.”
Mandy Thorn, chair of the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, said:
“This is a hugely exciting project which shows the Marches is at the cutting edge of innovation in agriculture and developing high-tech solutions which improve efficiency and sustainability. We are delighted that the MEIF has supported Earth Rover and look forward to this project going from strength to strength.”
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.
Head of Marketing & Communications
Mercia Asset Management PLC
+44 (0) 7464 480 137
+44 (0) 161 860 6063
+44 (0) 780 163 9816
About Mercia Asset Management PLC
Mercia is a proactive, specialist asset manager focused on supporting regional SMEs to achieve their growth aspirations. Mercia provides capital across its four asset classes of balance sheet, venture, private equity and debt capital: the Group’s ‘Complete Connected Capital’. The Group initially nurtures businesses via its third-party funds under management, then over time Mercia can provide further funding to the most promising companies, by deploying direct investment follow-on capital from its own balance sheet.
The Group has a strong UK footprint through its regional offices, 19 university partnerships and extensive personal networks, providing it with access to high-quality deal flow. Mercia currently has c.£800million of assets under management and, since its IPO in December 2014, has invested over £96million into its direct investment portfolio. Mercia Asset Management PLC is quoted on AIM with the epic “MERC”.
The Group raises its own Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) Funds and details about open offers can be found through Mercia’s website.
Mercia Asset Management PLC is quoted on AIM with the epic “MERC” and includes the following wholly owned subsidiaries –
- Mercia Fund Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 524856
- Enterprise Ventures Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 183363
- EV Business Loans Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 443560
About the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF)
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund will invest in Debt Finance, Small Business Loans, Proof of Concept and Equity Finance funds, ranging from £25,000 to £2m, specifically to help small and medium sized businesses secure the funding they need for growth and development.
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is operated by British Business Financial Services Limited, wholly owned by British Business Bank, the UK’s national economic development bank. Established in November 2014, its mission is to make finance markets for smaller businesses work more effectively, enabling those businesses to prosper, grow and build UK economic activity.
The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the European Investment Bank, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and British Business Finance Limited, a British Business Bank group company.
The MEIF covers the following LEP areas: Black Country, Coventry & Warwickshire, Greater Birmingham & Solihull, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, The Marches, and Worcestershire in the West Midlands; and Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham & Nottinghamshire (D2N2) Greater Lincolnshire, Leicester and Leicestershire, and South East Midlands in the East Midlands.
The project is receiving up to £78,550,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.
The funds in which Midlands Engine Investment Fund invests are open to businesses with material operations, or planning to open material operations, in, the West Midlands and East & South East Midlands.
The British Business Bank has published the Business Finance Guide (in partnership with the ICAEW, and a further 21 business and finance organisations). The guide, which impartially sets out the range finance options available to businesses and provides links to support available at a regional level, is available at www.thebusinessfinanceguide.co.uk/bbb
About the British Business Bank
The British Business Bank is the UK government’s economic development bank. Established in November 2014, its mission is to make finance markets for smaller businesses work more effectively, enabling those businesses to prosper, grow and build UK economic activity. Its remit is to design, deliver and efficiently manage UK-wide smaller business access to finance programmes for the UK government.
The British Business Bank programmes were supporting more than £7.7bn of finance to over 94,900 smaller businesses at end of December 2019. Since March 2020, the British Business Bank has launched four new Coronavirus business loan schemes, delivering tens of billions of pounds of finance to over a million businesses.
As well as increasing both supply and diversity of finance for UK smaller businesses through its programmes, the Bank works to raise awareness of the finance options available to smaller businesses:
- The Business Finance Guide (published in partnership with the ICAEW and a further 21 business and finance organisations) impartially sets out the range of finance options available to businesses at all stages – from start-ups to SMEs and growing mid-sized companies. Businesses can take the interactive journey at www.thebusinessfinanceguide.co.uk/bbb.
- The new British Business Bank Finance Hub provides independent and impartial information to high-growth businesses about their finance options, featuring short films, expert guides, checklists and articles from finance providers to help make their application a success. The new site also features case studies and learnings from real businesses to guide businesses through the process of applying for growth finance.
As the holding company of the group operating under the trading name of British Business Bank, British Business Bank plc is wholly owned by HM Government and is not authorised or regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The British Business Bank operates under its own brand name through a number of subsidiaries, none of which are authorised and regulated by the FCA.
British Business Bank plc and its principal operating subsidiaries are not banking institutions and do not operate as such. A complete legal structure chart for British Business Bank plc and its subsidiaries can be found on the British Business Bank plc website.