The agriculture industry is on the brink of a major shift. Robots are being used increasingly for jobs like harvesting. However, that isn’t all they’re good for. Startups like Iron Ox are taking things a step further.
The Bay Area-based company has just completed a $20 million Series B round for its robotic farms. Iron Ox has come a long way since its founding in 2015. The new funding will help it continue growing in the years to come—much like its crops.
A visit to an Iron Ox “farm” isn’t what you would expect. The startup owns a 10,000-square-foot growing facility in Gilroy, California. There, it produces a variety of vegetables—mostly leafy greens—year-round.
“We have made it our mission to address food security by developing autonomous greenhouses that grow a variety of local and consistently delicious food for everyone,” co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander said in a press release.
He adds, “Today, we’re thrilled to announce the successful operation of our Gilroy farm as well as our consumer brand, and our plans to complete additional sunlight-enabled, out-of-state facilities in 2021.”
Iron Ox designed a unique, robotics-first growing system around the sun. The approach also features hydroponics and uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming. It produces about 30 times more crops per acre of land than in-ground growing.
Since Iron Ox’s robotic system operates year-round, consumers can get fresh local produce regardless of the season.
The startup’s recent funding brings its total to $45 million so far. Investors taking part in the round include Crosslink Capital, Amplify Partners, ENIAC Ventures, R7 Partners, Tuesday Ventures, At One Ventures, and Y Combinator. Pathbreaker Venture led the Series B round.
Iron Ox plans to use the cash injection to expand its operations nationwide. It currently partners with Whole Foods and some smaller retailers in California to deliver produce. However, a widespread rollout will be necessary if Iron Ox wants to forge a sustainable path forward. With $20 million in new money, it should be able to do just that.
Old MacRobot Had a Farm
It’s easy to see why robotic farming is an appealing solution. The approach simultaneously addresses a host of issues within the agricultural industry, including labor shortages and supply chain issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these problems. Workers are unable to meet consumer demand and traditional supply chains have been cut off due to border closures and other delays.
With that in mind, investors have a lot of interest in robotic solutions to just about everything. Agriculture doesn’t seem like a natural fit for robots, but the pairing works well.
Things like hydroponics and smart growing have made it possible for robotics-focused startups to produce crops with much better yields than traditional farmers. On top of this, tech-based approaches are better for the environment and take up less land.
Although ground-based growing isn’t going away anytime soon (or probably ever) robotic farming is slowly vying to be a regular part of daily life. So, next time you eat a salad you might have a robot to thank for growing the lettuce.