Improving sustainability of fruit and veg growers via controlled environments, robotics, and AI

We build robotic systems that track inventory, grade, pick, and pack soft produce, and sell to sustainable controlled environment growers.

Photo of Eric Adamson
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Written by

I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Tortuga Agricultural Technologies, Inc.

Year founded

2016

Initiative stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1 - 10

Organization type

  • For-profit

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development
  • Nutrition

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Denver, CO

Location(s) of impact

Ledbury, UK

Website

http://www.tortugaagtech.com

Twitter URL

http://www.twitter.com/tortugaagtech

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

People worldwide want fresher, healthier, more sustainable produce, yet farmers struggle to grow it for them. Farmers face a global agricultural labor crisis. Farmers also face excessive waste, dependence on nasty chemicals that sicken workers and consumers, and increasing resource scarcity, particularly around water. The end consumer buys expensive, less fresh, and less nutritious produce, often coated in chemicals... adding insult to injury, this food is costly to the environment and to the workers who harvest it.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

We're helping fresh produce growers, and their workers and customers, by building robotic systems that harvest, track inventory, and collect massive amounts of data to identify issues and perform analytics. Our system is designed for soft produce grown in controlled environments - like strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, table grapes, cut flowers, mushrooms, and herbs.

By selling Robotics-as-a-Service, we’ll help farmers achieve 25% cost reductions from robotic harvesting and reduced inputs (90% less water use). Plus, we'll provide powerful benefits like 10%+ yield improvement from denser operations, better grading and forecasting, and advanced issue detection. All this totally changes a grower's unit economics and go-to-market. Customers get fresher, more affordable, healthier produce with less waste. Workers can focus on higher-value-add jobs and avoid chemical exposure. And, most importantly, our system will encourage sustainable controlled environment growing methods.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

We are a for-profit venture - our mission is broader than profit, but we are structured purely for profit. We've fundraised that way - we're 100% backed by venture capital and angel investors currently. We hope to receive US federal or state grants to help, but this will not be more than 10% of budget.

Our financial sustainability depends on growing from alpha trial (current, venture seed stage) to multiple large customers earning millions in revenue each (growth stage venture). If we can hit our engineering targets, we will build a business with 50% gross margin that will be able to scale globally, achieving our mission and earning financial gains as well.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Today, there are a handful of groups in the world attempting to automate soft produce harvesting. We are different because our mission and our prior experience has led us to design a full suite of services (not just harvesting replacement) for specific types of sustainable growers (controlled environment). And, because our our unique design, we are on track to being the low-cost provider with a system that adapts more easily to unique grow environments and different crops.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Eric grew up an hour north of Watsonville, CA - a world leading strawberry region. Tim grew up in Pennsylvania, near Amish country, where he ate some of the most delicious, fresh, and sustainable produce growing up. As Tim grew up and became a talented engineer, he realized that frontier technology from areas like biotech could help less-developed areas like ag - could reduce labor exploitation and improve sustainability through automating certain difficult parts of labor and using data in intelligent ways. Eric was thinking of ways to help farmers - who, despite being the most important part of the food value chain, often struggle to make ends meet and face enormous challenges from climate change, immigration issues, resource scarcity, and so on. When they started talking, they realized their visions aligned. When Tim programmed a camera to identify a strawberry, it was time to to try!

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 66.7%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

2. Innovation

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Social and/or Environmental Impact

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 33.3%

4. Financial sustainability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 100%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

5. Potential to Scale / Replicability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

6. Organizational Leadership

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 33.3%

7. Potential for Creating Shared Value

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

2 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Michael Ugom

Awesome venture Eric Adamson 
Don't you think this project type which utilizes human manpower for robots would create a greater level of unemployment if undertaken by not just this project but other projects and organizations?
Once more I would want to commend your write up. Well written.Thumbs up!!!

Photo of Eric Adamson

Hello Michael Ugom , thank you for your comment! Generally speaking, robots will reduce the amount of manual labor hours that people would do. However, in many countries, farmers can't find enough people to actually do the labor required on the farm to grow the rest of society our food. Those farmworkers are either immigrants or locals, but either way they have better and better options in their own countries for employment... less intense jobs that pay better and don't expose you to difficult conditions, chemicals, etc. This story is seen in places as diverse as the richest countries (Netherlands, UK, Scandinavia, USA, Canada, Spain, Korea, Japan) but also countries that are still developing (like Mexico and China), where other industries are offering better paying/ less physically demanding / less risky jobs. Reducing manual labor hours allows people to focus their time on better, higher-value jobs on the farm or elsewhere. That said, it's important for companies like ours to be very thoughtful about how we create employment opportunities, and how we will mitigate the downside if jobs are being taken away.