Robotics is "here today" says leading AgTech investor

By John Reynolds on Thursday 22 July 2021

Robotics is
Image source: robot on farm/Pixabay

Rob Appleby, co-founder of the Cibus Fund, offers his take on the impact of robotics on the farming industry and discusses carbon sequestration and fertilisers.

Robotics is “here today” disrupting the farming industry while innovation in the sector will be embraced by even traditional, luddite farmers, according to a leading investor in the sector.

Rob Appleby, co-founder of the Cibus Fund, which invests in sustainably run food and agriculture firms, has offered an upbeat assessment of the virtues of robotics and how it can prove transformational for the farming industry.

Appleby, speaking to Future Food Finance co-founder David Stevenson in a video interview that can be viewed here, also touched on hot industry topics including carbon sequestration and fertilisers.

On shifting the mindset of traditional farmers to more innovative practices, Appleby said: “I think that is probably the hardest thing. And this whole idea of adoption by people, you know, in their fifties and sixties is very hard.”

But he pointed two key drivers pushing farmers towards change.

“One is the regulatory changes that are going on. [And this] is going to be a stick and we can’t ignore that stick. And then, consumers are going ‘listen I don’t want that trad food'", he said.

“Millennials and Gen Zs are voting with their wallets saying ‘listen mate I want plant-based meat or I want stuff that is clean and more green'. 

“But I think change is afoot and the benefits are likely to outweigh the challenges.”

Asked when we will see widespread adoption of robotics in strawberry and other fruit farming, Appleby said: "I think it’s here today to be candid.”

As an example of the potential benefits that robotics can bring to farming, he pointed to the example of Norway’s Saga Robotics, which Cibus has invested in.

Saga Robotics uses robots that use UV light to kill pathogens like powdery mildew, a major blight to fruit pickers.

“And by taking these robots with UV light at night going along these rows you can dispense with fungicides,” Appleby said.

But Appleby was downbeat on some of the AgTech startups trying to engineer better yields.

He said: “There are some stars but like some stars they burn up in the firmament."

He added: “We’re hearing of companies like Indigo Ag that are all things to all men and they produce their own carbon credits. Valued very highly. We think that some of the science behind it is probably a little bit thin.

"There is another one called Pivot Bio. They think they can create these bacterial consortia, which, you know, can be applied to crops and you get, you know, yields improvements of between three and six per cent.

"Four per cent on average. It doesn’t sound to me like a game changer  and yet they are in the market raising $430m at a $2billion pre-money valuation.”