ADM looks to get ahead of robotics ‘revolution’ with minority stake acquisition

The Cibus Enterprise Fund has taken an 11.7% stake in Saga Robotic as head of VC Alastair Cooper predicts a 'revolution' in farming robotics.

Saga Robotics_Thorvalt Platform
Credit: Saga Robotics

ADM Capital’s Cibus Enterprise Fund, the firm’s venture capital strategy, has acquired an 11.7 percent stake in Norwegian agricultural robotics company Saga Robotics. Financial details were not disclosed.

Saga has developed an automated four-wheeled platform named Thorvalt (pictured above), on which various smart farming tools can be mounted. Thorvalt is being rolled out with its UV light capability, which is currently only capable of treating mildew – a fungi – on strawberries.

Saga expects to be able to treat mildew on other vine crops in the near future, such as grapes, cucumbers and tomatoes. The Thorvalt platform itself has been designed to accommodate additional farming tools such harvesting and transportation capabilities, which will be trialed in 2021.

“These robots can just get up and down the rows at night and the fungi have not evolved to protect themselves from UV light at night, so they are vulnerable at that time,” ADM’s head of venture investments Alastair Cooper told Agri Investor.

“There are also ancillary benefits because it is pretty good at knocking out some other pests, for example mites and spiders, which also can be quite a pest.”

ADM became aware of Saga when the $452 million Cibus Fund acquired several berry assets from UK-based Hall Hunter Partners in late 2019, said Cooper, when the firm identified labor security and cost as one of its biggest risks.

“Clearly, having a robotic solution to that would give us harvesting security and operational expenditure optimization, which made an enormous amount sense.

“There’s going to be a revolution [in robotics] and it’s not just in the arable world, it’s in the livestock world too. Milking robots are progressing incredibly fast and soon they’ll be shearing, washing, castrating, sorting – it’s incredible,” Cooper said.

As well as treating mildew, the Thorvalt platform is also capable of collecting data, precision spraying and is fully electric so does not emit any carbon associated with diesel and petrol engines.

Saga is currently taking its first batch of orders for the product, which will be delivered in time for the 2021 harvest. It is being constructed in the UK and Norway and is being predominantly marketed to European growers, as the Thorvalt platform is currently only compatible with tabletop-grown strawberries.

Incoming enquiries have “accelerated dramatically” since the start of the pandemic, said Cooper, as food and labor security concerns increased across supply chains and among populations.

The investment into Saga marks the second publicly disclosed deployment of capital from the Cibus Enterprise Fund, which invested in Dutch artificial intelligence agtech firm Connecterra during its Series B round in June.

Cooper confirmed the fund completed fundraising at the start of 2020 but declined to disclose any further details about the vehicle, including its size.