Japan’s Agrist secures series A funding round to expand AI-powered harvesting robot

The L robot recognizes green peppers.
Image credit: Agrist

Updated at 11pm on Wednesday: We learned this round does NOT include debt financing. The title was adjusted while the affected part was deleted.

Japanese AgriTecch startup Agrist, based out of Miyazaki on Japan’s Kyushu Island, announced today that it has secured a series A round. Participating investors are Dogan Beta, Miyazaki Taiyo Capital, ENEOS Innovation Partners, Miyagin Venture Capital, Jafco Group (TSE:8595) and Incubate Fund while the startup has received debt financing from an unnamed regional financial institution.

This round follows their seed round back in 2019. The company has not disclosed how much they raised in the Series A roundbut it is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of yen, as the company’s post Series A round valuation is estimated over 1.6 billion yen (about $15 million US) according to Japanese startup database Initial.

According to the Japanese agricultural ministry, Miyazaki Prefecture accounts for one-fifth of the entire domestic production of green peppers. Agrist was founded in a town of 17,000 people in the prefecture. The company’s founder, Junichi Saito, is well known as a regional revitalization producer having developed lychee production and encouraged many entrepreneurs to move there.

Junichi Saito
Image credit: Agrist

The company is an AI-powered harvesting robot called “L” to solve the labor shortage in agriculture. Aiming to develop a practical system rather than an expensive robot with flawless performance, the team has worked with local pepper farmers to develop the robot that can move around using aerial wires rather than over uneven soil in a vinyl greenhouse. The robot uses computer vision to fully automate the harvesting process.

This year, the company will start developing Agriss, an operating system to increase the harvest rate of agricultural products. In an interview with Bridge, Saito told us that his team hopes to make the robot a data-driven one by integrating with the operation system.

We want to increase the harvest rate of agriculture around the world, and this can be done by collecting data from all over the world as more and more farmers adopt our robot and use it to further improve their harvesting methods.

In the future, we would like to roll out the system not only in Japan but also in China, Africa, and other regions suffering from food production problems. There have not been many examples of Japanese agriculture changing the world’s agriculture, and the source of this change has been produced near vinyl houses in rural areas (like us).

Agrist is collaborating with Japanese petroleum giant Eneos Holdings (TSE: 5020, formerly known as JXTG Holdings), the parent company of ENEOS Innovation Partners, one of the investors in this round, on the development of a farming and power generation package. This aims to develop the one in which solar power generation equipment is installed in the upper space of crop production areas, and AI automatically increases the harvest rate while also generating electricity. It is expected to contribute to agriculture in off-grid areas as well as to the development of SDG businesses.

The team won the third place in the IVS 2020 Online “LaunchPad”, and has been selected for the FY2020 “Smart Agriculture Demonstration Project by Japanese Agricultural Ministry” for an operational demonstration with six farmers and six harvesting robots. In addition to the launch of an experiment of automated harvesting robots in Kamisu City, Ibaraki Prefecture, which is also well known for green pepper production, the company won the Deep Valley Agritech Award sponsored by Fukaya City, Saitama Prefecture, planning to introduce automatic cucumber harvesting robots in the city. It was also selected for the second batch of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives’ accelerator program.