Innovate UK funds cloud computing software for data-hungry farming sector
A Dorset-based cloud computing start-up that monitors farm productivity has raised £235,000 in Innovate UK funding, launched a recruitment app and expanded its software development team. It now plans to scale globally.
Cropdesk was founded by third generation blueberry farmer – and grandson to the UK’s first commercial blueberry farmer – David Trehane.
“When I took over the farm, harvest workers would write their name on a piece of cornflake packet and stick it to the box they picked,” says David. “That’s the level of data we were gathering. Our sole metric for whether we had a good season was our bank balance.”
Using his background in cloud computing, David built a solution that would measure worker’s picking speeds, track the productivity of berry varieties and predict yield by analysing climate data.
“Supermarkets want to know what supply they can expect on a daily, weekly, seasonal basis. Before I developed my own technology, I was just guessing here.”
To commercialise his technology, David began work with Innovate UK EDGE and joined its Global Business Innovation Programme, including a funded visit to an international Agri-Tech conference in Melbourne, Australia.
“I came back from Australia completely refreshed and refocused, having identified key challenges in finding good seasonal workers.”
Innovate UK funding for seasonal recruitment app
While UK farmers were preparing for a post-Brexit slump in Eastern European labour, they weren’t prepared for COVID advancing that scenario by a year.
“The government responded with the ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign, which was brilliant at raising the profile of farmer’s labour shortages. But it also overloaded the industry with thousands of applications from people offering three hours here and there.”
“Fruit picking is a 5am start, 6 days a week, pick your arms off sort of job – so those applications weren’t particularly useful.”
David designed a prototype solution, Seasonal Jobs, which works like a dating app for farmers and workers. Applicants fill in a basic CV including details like availability; employers set their requirements and the system pairs up likely matches. Applicants need not apply to farms individually and the good ones get snapped up quickly.
To fund the project, David collaborated with Innovate UK EDGE, creating an application for Innovate UK’s Business-Led Innovation in Response to Global Disruption competition. The bid was awarded £50,000, adding to the £160,000 raised in previous Innovate UK Funding bids.
“It would have been simply impossible without Innovate UK EDGE – they even managed to get extended impact funding, securing an extra £25,000.
“The sounding board support has also been fantastic. Particularly in the beginning when I was a solopreneur, the ability to download what’s in my head and have someone experienced say; ‘great, but think about it this way’, was absolutely invaluable.”
The future of Cropdesk and Seasonal Jobs
David hopes that Seasonal Jobs will prove a game changer in getting Britain back to work over the coming years.
However, he also has international ambitions. Both platforms are designed to be scalable, operable and useful to any farm of any size in any country and in any language, and David has his sights set on going global.