Now in its eighth year, the Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge is a national business competition that showcases U.S. startups developing innovative solutions to challenges facing America’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
This FBNews article features TerraClear, a participant in the 2021 Challenge, which culminated at the American Farm Bureau Virtual Convention, January 10-13, 2021. As a semi-finalist, TerraClear was awarded a total of $15,000.
Less than six months after becoming a finalist in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag Innovation Challenge, TerraClear announced Series A funding of $25 million led by Madrona Venture Group, bringing the company’s total funding to $38 million.
An applied AI and robotics company, TerraClear uses the most modern of technology to solve one of farmers’ oldest problems – rocks in fields, which break machinery, slow precision farming and take up valuable time farmers could use on other activities. TerraClear’s Rock Picker picks an average of 400 rocks per hour and can pick up rocks of up to 300 pounds.
Clearing fields of rocks is not only back-breaking work, if it’s not done properly, those rocks can break the extremely expensive equipment farmers use for planting, irrigating and harvesting. According to TerraClear, rocks in the field cost medium to large farms anywhere from $5,000 to $150,000 annually; the rocks cost very large farms even more money.
TerraClear founder Brent Frei, who grew up on his family’s farm in Idaho and returned to this passion after founding and growing an incredibly successful tech company, Smartsheet, knows firsthand how problematic rocks in the field can be.
“This is something I’ve personally dealt with my entire life,” he said. “There are more than 400 million arable acres worldwide that have been waiting for a cost-effective and productive solution to this problem. Repetitive tasks like this are optimal targets for automation, and the technologies we are bringing to the field dramatically reduce the labor and time needed to prep fields for planting.”
TerraClear’s first Rock Picker, released earlier this year, quickly sold out and the second run will be delivered at the end of this summer. The Rock Picker enables customers to remove rocks with the touch of a button. It works today on a compact track loader or skid steer and will soon be compatible with front-end loaders on tractors.
The Rock Picker takes less than five minutes to mount and works in any field condition – from traditionally cultivated to no-till, seeded fields, stubble or even pastureland. The Rock Picker minimizes compaction and disturbance of the soil, complementing the other practices and tools farmers use to keep their soil healthy.
In the future, TerraClear’s leaders envision integrating AI and computer vision with a fully autonomous rock picker platform, creating a Roomba for rocks.
“We’re working every day toward a fully autonomous solution for rock picking - and that is a multi-year project. Along the way, we’re building solutions that solve this problem better than anything out there,” says TerraClear President Trevor Thompson.
TerraClear also offers mapping and clearance services for those looking for a plug-and-play solution to picking rocks. Working with TerraClear or third-party drone services, TerraClear maps fields, uses AI to locate large rocks and then deploys the Rock Picker to clear the field. While using AI to locate the rocks and deploying the Rock Picker to clear them have each been helpful standalone products for farmers, their combined level of efficiency opens the opportunity for a profitable service business as well, something that the company is trialing in multiple regions this fall.
In addition to scaled production and sales in 2022, the team will use the injection of capital to accelerate the development of autonomy and grow the team in Washington and Idaho.
AFBF, in partnership with Farm Credit, has opened online applications for the 2022 Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge. Farm Bureau will award $165,000 in startup funds provided by sponsors Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, Farm Bureau Bank, Farm Bureau Financial Services, FMC Corporation and John Deere.