Artificial Farming Intelligence: Agbotic utilizes robotic tech to grow food

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUISINESS
Darren Strock checks hoses and nozzles on an automated watering machine at Agbotics.

BY: Nicole Caldwell
At Agbotic’s Sackets Harbor greenhouse, a robotic farmer is hard at work.

                The company’s “patented gantry bridge,” an overhead structure on tracks that span the greenhouse’s length, performs common farm tasks such as tilling, row-forming, seeding, harvesting and watering—all without chemicals.

                Web-based sensors that can be tracked on smart phones collect data like soil temperature and moisture content in order to “know” when plants need to be irrigated. The gantry bridge’s frame also has metal spades attached that function like little roto tillers to keep weeds at bay.

                The machine allows the greenhouse’s full footprint to be used as a produce-growing area, and frees the humans up to focus on marketing and distribution.

                The robot’s yield—up to 12,000 pounds of produce each month—is grown totally organically in healthy soil and distributed throughout the north country region and state.

A different method for indoor farming, and a fresh business model

                John P. Gaus of Potsdam launched Agbotic in 2014 with the hopes of selling robotic greenhouses like the one in Sackets to farmers throughout the area and, eventually, the world. The key is an economic model that allows farmers to cover their own costs (from seeds to the greenhouse itself, which the Watertown Daily Times reported cost around $350,000 to build).

                What sets this startup apart from other indoor farming systems is the fact that Gaus designed Agbotic around actual, healthy soil—not chemically added nutrients that you find in a hydroponics setup.

                The Sackets greenhouse, located on Gaus’ Wholesome Organics Farm, uses organic soil from the property’s organic pasture, grazed for years by a herd of Japanese Wagyu beef cattle.

                Digitizing the agricultural industry means offering the local farming community a chance at reinvention: Instead of crops lost to pests, inclement weather, untimely frost or other calamities, Agbotic was created to empower farmers and ensure higher yields and higher profit margins—all while passing savings along to consumers.

Back to his roots

                At the helm of the robot is Cody Morse, Agbotic’s co-founder and robot technician. Morse grew up on a farm, then joined the United States Marine Corps, completed three combat tours and more than five years of honorable service, and then returned to his local community to give back.

                “I got interested in agriculture at a young age,” he said. “Growing up on an organic farm, my father was always creating more effective ways to run it. That is why the greenhouse technology is structured to be the most effective and efficient as it can possibly be.”

                The robots Morse designs and maintains offer what’s called “controlled cover” for healthy soil on eco-diverse farms. Agbotic can even plant trees, maintain wetlands, and regenerate soil to improve ecosystems throughout the region. In Sackets, the 28-foot-tall greenhouse is fully loaded with a ventilation system for moving hot air around, temperature-controlled curtains, and a biomass boiler for the winter.

                It’s a business model the Agbotic team is counting on to be extrapolated for a multitude of uses.

AI farms may soon be the new normal

                Agbotic’s artificial intelligence may be the future face of farming. The certified organic, Harmonized GAP farm is in many ways behaving just as any organic farm might: planting trees, utilizing restorative soil practices to sequester carbon, foregoing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and nurturing dozens of varieties of fresh greens and veggies.

                But Agbotic is tech-heavy. And it’s worth other farmers sitting up to take notice of how smoothly this team has things running. Looking to solar and biomass for energy, utilizing less water, growing healthier, organic food, preserving natural resources, and selling local are all made possible with a giant robotic arm moving about in a greenhouse.

Keeping an eye to the future

                “We are not currently selling our equipment,” Morse said, “but looking to in the future. As of now, we are just selling the produce in multiple markets such as high-end retail, independent retail, local restaurants, and New York City restaurants.”

                Morse said Agbotic is in the process of expanding to six greenhouses, “with a processing building this year and many more to come in the future.” These kinds of complexes could replace full-size farms entirely, offering hope for regions where farming may be very difficult to accomplish year-round or due to difficult terrain. And that may be enough to entice a younger, tech-savvy generation to start farming.