Guardian Agriculture raises $10.5 million for its crop-dusting drone service
Apr. 8, 2021
By Rebecca Szkutak
For one of America’s largest and most important industries, agriculture still relies on methods developed decades, if not hundreds, of years ago. Crop dusting, for example, still mainly uses low-flying planes that look straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North by Northwest. The job is dangerous, recording fatalities every year, and doesn’t give farmers the necessary precision to make smart fertilization choices.
A Guardian Agriculture eVTOL drone getting unloaded. GUARDIAN AGRICULTURE
Boston-based startup Guardian Agriculture hopes to fix that problem with an autonomous vehicle called an eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) with a software suite that can help track where farmers fertilize and how much. The idea for the company started when cofounder and CEO Adam Bercu was frustrated with how far drone technology has come over the last decade and yet the tech still has few practical use cases. Bercu, whose family owns a small aviation company, saw an opportunity to innovate that area and after testing different markets he found that agriculture was the right avenue. “There is a real business there that has the potential to have a massive impact,” Bercu tells Forbes. “We can grow more food in a much more sustainable way.” After four years mainly in stealth — 18 months of which was spent researching and testing its product — the startup is announcing a fresh funding crop.
Guardian Ag raised a $10.5 million seed round, as originally reported in last weekend’s Midas Touch newsletter, led by Leaps by Bayer, a VC fund focused on innovations in health and agriculture backed by the German pharma giant, Bayer. The firm also received funding from agtech service provider Wilbur-Ellis’ venture arm, Cavallo Ventures, and FMC Corporation’s investment pool, FMC Ventures, in addition to traditional VCs including: Fall Line Capital, Pillar VC, Neoteny and MIT-affiliated E14 Fund. This brings the company’s total funding to $15.5 million. The startup will use the funds to ramp up manufacturing and help fulfill the $20 million worth of preorders it has amassed from growers in California and Florida.
Adam Bercu is a founder and the CEO of Guardian Agriculture. CZ COMMUNICATIONS
Habib Haddad, a managing partner at the E14 fund, says when he met the Guardian Ag team, he was surprised by the progress they had made building devices with only bootstrapped-capital, compared to larger players who had tried and failed in the space. “The market that Guardian Ag is going after is humongous and the need for increasing food production is increasing,” Haddad says. “The other interesting thing about Guardian Ag is you aren’t convincing farmers to adopt something that is completely disruptive to their operations. It’s something that they do anyway with planes.” With crop-dusting drones, “it’s just happening in a much more efficient way with data.”
Each device can autonomously spray up to 40 acres an hour on pre-planned routes. The eVTOL can be programmed to fertilize in specific areas, which allows farmers to only hit crops that need it and to use whichever treatment or chemical they already use. The devices also collect data which allows farmers to keep dusting records and increase their knowledge base on how their crops are doing. The company doesn’t plan to sell the tech, but lease it as a service, which aligns with the current crop-dusting market. The startup plans to price its service at $10 to $45 an acre to match the average price range for the service that they heard from surveying farmers.
While VC funding into ag has been growing rapidly over the last few years, the advanced farm equipment space that Guardian Ag would fall under, remains a niche but still growing area, according to PitchBook analyst Alex Frederick. The sector saw $317 million of investments in 2020, up 28% from 2019, $228 million, and up 83% from 2015, $50.8 million. Frederick adds that adoption was slow at first because it was hard to get farmers to purchase expensive experimental technology, but with many newer companies like Guardian focusing on a rental model, it may increase adoption. PitchBook predicts the market could be worth $126.5 billion by 2025. “I think there is a long runway,” Frederick says. “Drone technology has been around for a decade plus, now it seems like agriculture is an area of promise. [We are] seeing new companies testing out the waters there but I think we are still early days. I think there is a lot of innovation to come.”
More from AgroNews
Subscribe to daily email alerts of AgroNews.