Oregon BEST, an environmental technology development company, has made a $25,000 grant to Rogue Rovers, an electric farm vehicle manufacturer, as precision agriculture technology investment picks up pace.
The funding will help Rogue Rovers to collaborate with the Oregon Institute of Technology, the university, to design, test and build an all-terrain vehicle that can be used on speciality farms, such as orchards and vineyards, to make processes such as pesticide and fertilizer application more efficient.
Speciality agriculture is difficult because it often involves steep topography and trees that have been in the ground for years, presenting physical challenges for any vehicle working on the land, according to Melissa Brandao, chief executive and founder of Rogue Rovers.
“I don’t know of anyone else developing ground-based autonomous vehicles for this sector, but there’s no doubt that this is up and coming,” she said.
The vehicle will have a variety of data collection tools to help build a virtual orchard database including information such as plant history, soil types, temperature and humidity readings. The vehicle will also be able to drive itself, or be driven manually.
Increasing numbers of firms are developing precision agriculture technology to work the world’s limited land supply to its best ability, and to help avoid wasting resources such as fertilisers and damaging the land with too many pesticides. At least 87 private companies worldwide are engaged in this sector, according to Focus Banking, an investment bank with a particular focus on this market.
Getting funding for these projects is often a challenge but opportunities from organisations like Oregon BEST are a great head start, said Brandao.
“For us to receive funding from Oregon BEST offers a tremendous benefit because they are very well-respected and do an incredible amount of due diligence, which gives us a lot of credibility at the national level and will enable us to leverage additional funds. This initial funding is just what we needed to get started.”
Oregon BEST will soon change its investment model from “commercialization grants” to “commercialization funding” whereby it will stop issuing funding as grants and instead seek a financial return on its investments, according to Ken Vaughn, director of commercialization projects at Oregon BEST. The Rogue Rovers deal is one of the last under the old model, he told Agri Investor. The organization does not try to attract third party capital to partner in projects but could do so at a later stage, he added.
HoneyComb Corp, a drone technology firm, raised $150,000 from Oregon BEST and Portland Development Commission for product development last month.