Nov 10, 2022
Ag group invests in autonomous tractors startup

Cooperative Ventures, a venture capital fund formed by North American farm cooperatives, announced its first investment. It is investing in Sabanto, a hardware and software company developing autonomous capabilities in tractors.

Founded in 2018, Sabanto is deploying fully-autonomous machinery performing row crop field operations throughout the United States.

“We’re very enthusiastic about the strategic benefits presented by the Sabanto investment,” Heather Thompson, GROWMARK’s director of innovation, said in a news release. “The labor shortage in ag retail is a very real problem. Autonomy presents an exciting solution, but adopting autonomous equipment creates a new set of challenges for traditional operations. By partnering with Sabanto, GROWMARK and our FS cooperatives have the advanced opportunity to test and learn the impacts of this cutting-edge technology.”

Sabanto is focused on retrofitting 60 to 200 horsepower tractors to operate autonomously. Already, Sabanto has proven its ability to automate a variety of row crop field operations, including planting, tillage, spraying, and mowing over thousands of acres throughout the Midwest, according to the release.

“While many autonomous equipment startups are focused on specialty crops, we believe Sabanto’s focus on row crops presents a tremendous opportunity for farmers and our member owners,” Ben Van Straten, director of innovation and sustainability for CHS Inc., said in the release. “This truly is an evolution of agriculture with the potential to lower equipment and labor costs for farmers and ag retailers by using smaller tractors that are more fuel efficient, while further improving sustainability through less soil compaction.”

While row crops were used to show the focus of the investment was based on Cooperative Ventures fund member Midwestern owners’ needs, Sabanto also works in specialty crops, according to a Sabanto marketing staffer. Sabanto has hired a West Coast business development and operations manager and is leasing a machine shop in Gilroy, California, to house and service its West Coast autonomous tractor as a service fleet which will work on all crops grown in California, Oregon & Washington, according to the staffer. The Sabanto add-on kit can transform a manually operated tractor into an autonomous tractor with the flip of three switches.

The first investment by Cooperative Ventures is aligned with the capital fund’s core investment areas, or “Fields of Play,” to maximize the impact of each investment: crop production, supply chain, farm business enablement, and sustainability, according to the release.

Sabanto’s mission is to accelerate autonomy in agricultural machinery to solve the scarcity of labor in rural areas and increasing capital expenses for modern ag machinery. Sabanto’s core competency revolves around low-cost retrofits of existing agriculture machinery, regardless of make or model, along with the development of necessary supporting software to maximize the utility of autonomous technology, thereby increasing producer ROI, according to the release.

Cooperative Ventures is a venture capital fund founded in late 2021 as a joint venture between CHS and GROWMARK, two of the largest North American farmer-owned agricultural supply cooperatives. The fund focuses on innovative solutions and emerging technologies that positively impact farming.

In addition to providing capital, Cooperative Ventures is committed to developing mutually beneficial commercial relationships between startups and farmer-owned cooperative partners, according to the release. CHS and GROWMARK leverage industry expertise and farmgate networks to provide operational support and resources to help Cooperative Ventures’ portfolio companies grow and succeed.

CHS is a leading global agribusiness owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives. Diversified in energy, agronomy, grains and foods, CHS is committed to creating connections to empower agriculture, helping its farmer-owners, customers and other stakeholders grow their businesses through its domestic and global operations. CHS supplies energy, crop nutrients, seed, crop protection products, grain marketing services, production and agricultural services, animal nutrition products, foods and food ingredients, and risk management services.

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