Farms in Europe, and worldwide, are suffering from a continuous and worsening shortage of workers. In the UK, this problem has been exacerbated by Covid-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine and high employment levels in competing sectors, with the National Farmers’ Union suggesting that as much as £60m of food will be left to rot on farms this year due to labour shortages.
In this scenario, harvesting robot developers Fieldwork Robotics announced it has secured €1.7 million from Elbow Beach Capital, a decarbonisation, sustainability and social impact investor. Family office Frontier IP, and other existing investors have also followed on in this round. At the same time, an ongoing Seedrs round opened to new investors, which will close in September, and is expected to raise an additional €700k.
Initially focusing on soft fruits, such as raspberries, Fieldwork Robotics has developed advanced, AI-supported harvesting robots to help solve the problem of worker shortages, increase farm efficiency and reduce food wastage in the UK and beyond. Raspberry producers in particular face several issues including chronic labour shortages and dwindling net margins. Picking raspberries alone accounts for over 50% of total production costs.
David Fulton, CEO of Fieldwork Robotics, said: “Elbow Beach Capital are a great strategic and cultural fit for us. As a genuine impact investor, it’s clear that EBC are not only looking for potential value, but also at the impact of their investments and how they can make the world a better place. This round will support our work with forward-looking farms looking to solve their labour shortages, reduce crop wastage and mitigate food inflation.”
Spun out of the University of Plymouth in 2017 and now based in Cambridge, Fieldwork benefits from a highly experienced team with backgrounds in applied sciences, electronics, engineering, software and manufacturing. This experience allowed the Fieldwork team to develop the first autonomous raspberry harvesting robot, in collaboration with Bosch. The robot, named Alpha, analyses the crop, decides when to harvest the raspberries, and places them in punnets ready for delivery to supermarkets.
Alpha gives growers the ability to extend operations to 24 hours a day, increasing harvesting time threefold. With farmers struggling to recruit farm workers, Alpha can provide assurance that farmers’ capability to harvest will not be impacted by seasonal or policy-led variations in available labour supply. Fieldwork’s technology therefore allows growers to significantly increase their harvesting efficiency and reduce the food wastage caused by human labour shortages.
Working in collaboration with the Summer Berry Company, Fieldwork has deployed Alpha to farms in Portugal, and the fruit it harvests is currently being sold in the UK’s top supermarkets including M&S, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
Jon Pollock, CEO of Elbow Beach Capital, commented: “The Fieldwork Robotics team combine their significant technical expertise with a drive to create an instant and lasting impact. Agriculture as it stands is not fit for purpose and we need innovative technologies to alleviate the unsustainable levels of waste and improve the economics for the farmer and end customers in the sector. We look forward to working closely with Fieldwork as they tackle this issue head on.”
This is Elbow Beach Capital’s third investment in the AgriTech space, having already invested in broccoli protein specialists, UPP and asparagus robot specialists, Muddy Machines.
Prior to this round, Fieldwork received over €800k in backing from Innovate UK and support from EIT Food, giving the company access to a network of entrepreneurs, agricultural leaders and academics. Fieldwork will use the proceeds of this round to grow its team, begin outsourcing the manufacture of its robots and onboard more farmers to its harvesting-as-a-service offering. The company aims to have over 100 robots available for harvesting-as-a-service by 2025 and treble the harvesting speed of its robots.