The team behind Muddy Machines has almost tripled in size and has been invited to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister since winning Agri-Tech Innovator of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards.

Without a shadow of a doubt, opening the door to connecting with farmers has been the most overwhelming plus point of winning a British Farming Award for the team behind Muddy Machines. Co-founder Florian Richter remembers the early days of the company – started in the basement of an East London flat during the Covid-19 pandemic – when he would look on Google Maps scouting for farms to talk to about his innovative ideas. Florian says: “With my German accent and random way of approaching farms – along with the pandemic – it is a credit to the agricultural community that I was always so warmly welcomed. “Everybody I spoke to in those early days was so open and welcoming, often sharing sensitive data with me about things such as industry costs. “However, I must say that winning the British Farming Award made connecting with farmers so much easier. “Being recognised with an industry award gave us the credibility that now means people are approaching us, rather than me going onto Google Maps to try and find farmers to talk to.”


Florian and his co-founder Christopher Chavasse started Muddy Machines in 2020. At its core is an awareness of labour shortages, while at the same time being mindful of increased pressure on farmers to produce food sustainably. The team was invited to the recent Field to Fork summit in Downing Street, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to throw the spotlight on agriculture and its current challenges. Florian says: “The key message we spoke to the Prime Minister about was Government funding for innovation. More specifically, to help to make sure great ideas do not end up in what we call the ‘valley of death’ – the space between pilot stage and then actually generating revenue. “It is no good giving grants at design stage but then not following them up with support to take it to the next stage. So many innovations run out of steam before they actually get the chance to start making money. “Investors are not risk-takers by nature and farmers are no different. If they can see, feel and touch a machine, there is every chance they will get behind it. “But without being shown how a machine works, they will, quite understandably, keep their money in their pockets.” When they received their British Farming Award last year, Florian and Christopher had teamed up with large-scale vegetable business Cobrey Farms, Herefordshire, to build small, lightweight electronically powered harvest robotscalled Sprouts.Field tests have now been completed and the Sprouts have been proving their worth in the commercial harvesting of asparagus.


Heavy investment has been needed to develop the Sprout, with funding kicked off with £1 million raised from private investors and a further £2m received from winning four Innovate UK grants. Florian says: “It was through our contact with Defra and our applications for Government funding that we were invited to the Field to Fork summit. “Asparagus was the obvious first choice to aim the Sprout at, with it being one of the most labour intensive crops, harvesting daily throughout its 12-week season. “The whole idea of the Sprout was built up around the acute labour shortages that farming is experiencing. “My co-founder Chris is a robotics engineer and we learned about crops rotting because there was not the staff to harvest them. “The fact that 60 per cent of production costs are labour was very much at the top of our list of problems to solve.

“We are now starting to trial courgette harvesting and other possibilities include broccoli, cauliflowers and runner beans. “Looking to the future, there is scope for the Sprout to be used for weeding, to reduce chemical
usage, in addition to harvesting.” Rather than selling the machines, Muddy Machines aims to hire them out to growers, with a payment based on a per kg harvested basis. Florian says: “This makes sense as the asparagus season is very short. Who would want to invest so heavily in equipment which was not required for the other nine months of the year? “It is far better if we can collect it and then, for example, put the courgette harvesting
tool on and send it on to work with another farmer. “The motor and all the fundamentals of the robot remain the same. It is just the harvesting tool which changes. This also ties in with our sustainability ethos.”


From its humble basement beginnings, Muddy Machines now has a team of 17 staff, split between working in hardware, such as mechanics, electrics and engineering, and software elements, like computer vision and image recognition. Florian says: “I sometimes look around at all the people who now work with us and it still makes me very proud. In such a short space of time, I feel we are making a very real difference and an important part of our story was winning the British Farming Award, which gave us that credibility and line of communication with the agricultural industry.” The Sprout harvester uses cutting edge artificial intelligence to measure every single spear, cutting the ripe ones delicately while avoiding the immature spears, leaving them behind
for another day.

Yields can also be predicted and reported to growers as it measures everything it sees through the use of 3D cameras and a host of other sensors and algorithms avoiding obstacles and hazards in the field.

”The fact that 60 per cent of production costs are labour was very much at the top of our list of problems to solve”
Florian Richter


Muddy Machines does not blame Brexit for the current labour shortages which were the problem robot Sprout was designed to help solve. Florian says: “As a German, there is plenty I could criticiseBrexit for. But the fact is other countries are struggling to find adequate labour, not just the UK. “Canadians are feeling it, along with Americans and Mexicans. Pretty much all over the world agriculture is not managing to recruit the workers it needs. “People not wanting to work in agriculture, especially doing labour-intensive jobs, such as harvesting vegetables, is a global problem, not an exclusively British one.”


This award recognises the accelerated growth of an exciting sector which is providing a wealth of support and solutions to farming practices. You do not need to have an agricultural background but you will be helping farmers and/or industry professionals find solutions whether that be through increasing crop yields, streamlining data, improving animal health, reducing waste or lowering carbon footprints to name but a few.


For more information on the category and the British Farming Awards, visit