bfa shortlist

2022 Agri-tech Innovator of the Year

Cobrey Farms,
Muddy Machines

The company, which was founded in 2020, by Florian Richter and Christopher Chavasse, completed field tests with the product in October 2021 and is believed to be the first in the world to have proven the commercial viability of green asparagus harvesting. Farms like Cobrey require a high volume of seasonal workers for a number of tasks, primarily for weeding and harvesting. Asparagus is one of the most labour-intensive crops as harvesting occurs daily throughout the 12-week season. Extreme labour shortages during the last three years have left hundreds of tonnes of produce rotting in the fields, especially for vegetables with specific growing patterns such as asparagus, broccoli and courgettes.

The robot is capable of driving itself into the field and then autonomously following rows, while visually identifying and carefully lifting asparagus spears and placing them accurately into boxes. Due to it being fully electric and lightweight, this product supports net zero farming and soil compaction is avoided. It can operate for up to 12 hours in the field and is the equivalent of up to three workers, with the advantage of achieving up to 20 per cent better yields, avoiding damaging soil compaction.

The harvester uses cutting edge AI 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. Heavy investment has been required for this product, with £1m already raised from private investors and a further £2m received from winning four innovate UK grants. In terms of marketing this agriproduct, the robot is provided as a service to the grower, with the company paid on a per kg harvested basis.

What the judges said: 

“Florian and Christopher have shown a clear identification of the market need for their product and recognised the target crop (asparagus) for their technology based on sound economics and realistic, repeatable factors. The design shows great promise in addressing labour shortages in the fresh produce sector, but also demonstrates that new technology must integrate with existing businesses and financial processes in use on farm to be successful. The business has ambitious growth plans but backed this up with credible financials and a realistic outlook of technology uptake and the supply-chain requirements to sustain this growth and match customer expectations.”

On winning, Florian Richter and Christopher Chavasse said: 

“It feels incredible. We have been working hard over two and a half years and we believe the future is robotic in agriculture. It’s great to see it come to fruition and see it recognised.”