Hannah Louise Brown: “Automation in the Greenhouse”
Automation technology for agriculture.
At the Constance-based start-up Organifarms, the team around the head of communications Hannah Louise Brown already had the possible expansion to international marketsfixed in mind.
With its Berry robot, start-up Organifarms contributes to efficiency and sustainability in strawberry harvesting
Whoever founds a start-up has a special drive. What is it like at Organifarms?
We definitely wanted to make a social contribution with it. For all of us, the future of agriculture was an issue. How can we make food production sustainable in the context of climate change and a growing world population? We decided to develop automation technology for the large area of agriculture, in order to contribute there precisely to a sustainable and fair food production..
What is the exact benefit of using a harvesting robot?
In agriculture, there is a great shortage of personnel, especially in labor-intensive tasks such as harvesting. Berry can help precisely to replace these workers who are missing. And it can create security and keep the quality of the fruit constant. Less fruit has to be thrown away because he doesn’t touch the fruit during harvesting and doesn’t cause bruising or other defects.
So is this a technology only for highly developed countries?
Not only. But it is first already so that this technology is something for highly developed countries, but also for countries where there are now already major staff shortages or where the climatic conditions for cultivation are very difficult. In the further development of our technology there are very few limits, there is a lot that can be done.
“For us, the future of agriculture is an issue: how to make food production sustainable in the context of climate change and a growing world population.”
What fruits, then, fit this technology?
So initially, the Berry, our first product, only harvests strawberries. However, in the further development, it can very well harvest fruits that are similarly cultivated, such as tomatoes or peppers. In the long term, it is definitely possible to further develop the technology so that other fruits and vegetables can also be harvested. Fruits that hang fit very well with our current technology, but in the further development there are very few limits..
How did the Organifarms team come together?
In the very beginning, we founders met at a hackathon. We come from very different regions and areas and that is also a bit of the spirit that we have carried forward when we built our team. Country borders were not a limitation for us. Our team members come from different countries. We have developers from Mexico or India and often speak English in the team so that everyone can communicate well. We want to continue to grow internationally as a team and bring together very different experiences and backgrounds.
How does Organifarms design the dialogue with international customers?
From the beginning, we went very strongly into the exchange with potential customers, directly also globally – simply to be able to assess the market. We wanted to know what the situation was like in the various countries and what the challenges were in each case. International trade fairs were very important, as were workshops and networks. We are also a member of the FarmTech Society and Association for Verticle Farming, just to be able to exchange ideas with the international community in our field.
“We want to continue to grow internationally as a team and bring together very different experiences and backgrounds.”
And what about local customers here at Lake Constance?
Local customers are of course very important to us, especially in the early phase we were able to build a close relationship with local customers. Because the distances are not far, we had the opportunity to try things out very early on, such as at a grower on the other side of the lake, where we were able to test our robot. At Reichenau, we also exchange ideas with farmers about their expectations and challenges in the coming years.
What are now the most important target markets in which you are already active?
Currently, with our first product, in addition to Germany, the most important target markets are the Netherlands, Great Britain and Belgium. Especially in the Netherlands, the strawberry cultivation is very widespread and just already technologized. We approached the suppliers at an early stage and have already been able to build up relationships and obtain feedback. I think it’s very important not to develop something first and then approach the customers late, but to actually be in an early exchange so that you can also gather experience and not develop past the customer’s expectations. If we look at our market development in the longer term, North America is definitely also a very important market for us, as is Japan, where our technology also fits the conditions very well..
What role do cooperations play for Organifarms?
For expansion, service and maintenance, international partners are very important for us. That is, we want to build a network with regional distributors, but also with regional service and maintenance networks that support us in the respective target regions and also become partners. We actually already have international collaborations, – such as a technology partnership with Metazet FormFlex, a company in the Netherlands, from whom we source our autonomous platform. Working with international partners will become even more important in the future, especially for sales, but also for service and maintenance.▪
“Exchange is important, so that one does not develop past the customer expectations of.”
Harvesting robot Berry.
The international development team of Organifarms is working on the optimization of mechanics and digital control of the smart harvester. There are no limits for new fields of application.