Lincolnshire, UK-based FruitCast, a startup that offers yield forecasting services for soft-fruit growers, announced that it has secured £2.8M (approximately €3.26M) in a fresh round of funding.
In 2022, Ceres Agritech provided £520K in initial funding to FruitCast to create the tool and assemble a team of research scientists and industry specialists. The latest funding of over £1.1M will facilitate FruitCast’s launch.
According to BusinessCloud, FruitCast, which underwent trials on UK soft fruit farms for the last two years, is set to launch in 2024.
FruitCast says it will use the funds to launch as a subscription system. Development will continue for six months and will offer early access in the 2024 growing season. The platform’s scope will expand to include various crops beyond soft fruits.
The funding came from private investors, including Ceres Agritech, and support from Innovate UK’s investor partnership programme.
Louise Sutherland of Ceres Agritech says, “FruitCast has huge potential to make transformational change in the industry. Predicting the timing and yield of strawberries is critical but extremely difficult to do accurately resulting in significant lost sales.”
“Precise forecasting will help to increase growers’ annual margins. We are delighted to see that a Ceres Agritech-backed technology is going to market,” adds Sutherland.
AI-enabled data analytics and yield forecasting technology
In the past, yield forecasting relied on skilled labourers manually counting plants and extrapolating to estimate quantities and harvest schedules. This is where FruitCast looks to make a difference.
The UK-based company aims to meet growers’ demand for precise fruit growth forecasts, assisting in labour and supply planning while safeguarding profit margins.
Richard Williamson, FruitCast’s CEO told BusinessCloud, “Raising this capital is a testament to the developer Raymond Martin and the team who have created a cutting-edge tool that is immensely valuable to growers. It could be a game-changer for an industry plagued by challenges that are persistently squeezing margins.”
“The AI capability is driven by one of the largest databases in the world, which gives it a firm foundation for accurate forecasting ahead of other competitors.”
“This combined with the depth of understanding of practical agriculture and proven capability has made FruitCast attractive to agritech investors in what is a competitive and noisy marketplace,” adds Williamson.
FruitCast utilises a moving camera to capture thousands of daily photos to evaluate individual fruit count, weight, and maturity for millions of berries.
Chief Technical Officer Dr. Raymond Martin developed FruitCast from his relevant PhD research, prompted by growers’ practical needs.
Dr. Martin says, “It’s a time-sensitive crop, and too much fruit in any week means waste and loss, and too little, you lose business. We’re delighted to have attracted the funding and industry support to bring FruitCast to launch.”
“We want all growers to be able to precisely forecast their season to give them the leverage to take back the power in managing their costs and customer contracts,” he adds.
FruitCast’s technology offers predictions for labour and market planning up to six weeks ahead. It’s being field-tested with leading UK soft fruit growers W B Chambers and Place UK, with positive results and grower feedback driving substantial investment.