South African agtech company Aerobotics has closed a $2 million Series A. The data analytics company uses drones and machine learning algorithms to help farmers identify pest and disease early. After receiving $602,000 in seed funding last August, Aerobotics has added new investors to continue its growth.
Leading the pack is the VC branch of one of South Africa’s largest banks, Nedbank CIB Venture Capital. Additional investors include: AngelList, 4Di Capital, Savannah Fund and some other notable industry names; Uber’s head of business for Sub-Saharan Africa, Justin Spratt and Lee Edwards, former CTO of TeeSpring, are also included in the deal. In a statement last week, AgFunder, an online investment platform company, announced they would be participating in the funding round.
Farming has never been the business of the risk-averse. Weather changes, climate, pest control, and other variables make those on the front lines of the ag industry particularly vulnerable. Through early disease and pest detection facilitated by drone and satellite imagery, Aerobotics thinks it can help. Farmers use Aerobotics’ web-based software, Aeroview, and its in-field mobile scouting app, Aeroview Scout, to manage their orchards and detect problems in their early stages. Here’s a quick video overview:
Aerobotics cites four components to what it calls precision agriculture:
Early Problem Detection: Aerobotics uses satellite imagery and drone flights to monitor farmers crop and warn them about potential risks.
Targeted Scouting: Aerobotics claims increased accuracy and time savings by planning targeted scouting trips. Its in-field app guides farmers to the root of the problem.
Tree Census: Provides accurate statistics for orchards including tree counts, per-tree size, and canopy area.
Management Zones: Farmers can use Aerbotics’ management zones to plan irrigation probe placement, soil and leaf samples, and apply variable-rate fertilizers with smart tractors.
In a blog earlier this week, Aerobotics said it has plans to help with several types of crops as the company grows.
“Nedbank worked with us to make sure the day was a success. John Hudson, Head of Agriculture for Business Banking at Nedbank, explained that ‘the Bank’s partnership with Aerobotics is evolving over time as it moves from macadamia nuts to citrus farms and now to vineyards.’ Nedbank is ‘excited about the access to qualitative data which Aerobotics can provide the Bank as this is really important and of great value’ noted John. We’re working to aggregate data for everyone in the agricultural value chain to help make better financial decisions. ‘Turning a simple image into hundreds of data points is our forte’ noted Tim Willis, Aerobotics CFO.”
Aerobotics Coming to America
In the immediate future, Aerobotics is planning a US launch for its digital farming solutions.
“In two weeks time, we will be launching our first US market at the Florida Citrus Expo in Fort Myers… ‘the US market is a key one for Aerobotics as we need to prove that our product is the best pest and disease management tool for some of the largest citrus Growers in the world.’ The Florida citrus industry has been devastated by the Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) bacteria over the past few years. Citrus greening is a bacteria which is spread by a tiny insect called the Asian Citrus Psyllid. The disease turns fruit bitter and eventually kills the tree. There is no cure. We will be helping Florida Growers identify these problems in their orchards and count impacted trees.”