iFarm has raised $4 million to expand its automated system that uses AI and drones to grow fruits and vegetables in enclosed spaces. Gagarin Capital led the round of funding, which included investment from Matrix Capital, Impulse VC, IMI.VC, and some business angels.
The Finnish startup has developed a vertical agricultural system called iFarm Growtune. By growing food closer to consumers and in spaces where conditions can be carefully controlled, iFarm promises to produce food that is fresher while reducing environmental impact.
As companies rethink logistics and the environment in the wake of the pandemic, self-contained urban farms hold growing appeal.
“The main advantage of indoor farms is that you can be growing all year round, wherever you are,” said iFarm cofounder and CEO Max Chizhov. “And you don’t need a special technologist or agronomist who knows how to use software or grow stuff.”
Automation, AI, robotics, and farming are increasingly converging. Paris-based Agricool installs automated systems in a shipping container to grow strawberries in urban areas. Naïo Technologies builds autonomous farming robots, a Berkeley lab is developing AI systems for polyculture gardening, Burro makes an autonomous vehicle to transport grapes during the harvest, and Enko Chem uses machine learning to help farmers protect their crops without pesticides.
Meanwhile, iFarm is working with clients, typically businesses or farmers, to set up systems in warehouses, factories, basements, and other spaces.
The iFarm system places seedbeds in long racks that are stacked up to 5 meters high. An array of sensors monitors and adjusts the lighting and humidity. Drones are equipped with computer vision to track the crops’ growth and provide further data for the system’s algorithm.
The company developed the algorithm by feeding it scientific data about plant growth, along with data obtained from working farms. The company’s platform can measure the size and weight of plants to help farmers modulate growing conditions. It also uses computer vision to spot potential diseases, which helps growers avoid the use of chemical treatments. In some cases, the system adjusts the microclimate automatically, but it can also provide recommendations to staff.
iFarm currently helps customers create farms ranging from 3,000 square meters to 5,000 square meters. The company has helped develop 11 farms in Finland, Switzerland, the U.K., the Netherlands, Andorra, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Chizhov said iFarm will use the new funding to continue the development of Growtune and expand into new countries in Europe and the Middle East.