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Bill Gates’ green tech fund bets on Silicon Valley farming robots By Reuters


© Reuters. The Iron Ox greenhouse at Gilroy in California is home to modules of Genovese basil as well as other plants. This photo was taken September 15, 2021. Picture taken September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino


By Nathan Frandino

(Reuters) – As California struggles with another crippling drought, a Silicon Valley startup that believes robots can grow produce more sustainably said Wednesday it raised $50 million in a funding round led by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Iron Ox is able to use robots integrated with hydroponic systems that consume 90% less water than conventional farms.

It is using that technology in its 10,000-square-foot (930-meter) greenhouse in Gilroy. Grover the self-driving robot moves Genovese Basil Pallets and a robotic arm lifts those pallets to inspect. For healthy growth, sensors check water levels for acidity and nitrogen. 

They then ask, “What’s missing?” Alexander asked, “What does this plant require that we aren’t giving it?” Anything water left over can be used to refill the system.

California’s agriculture plays a vital role, however water use is becoming more prominent. Last year’s severe drought cut off irrigation to farmers and forced households to take strict water conservation measures. This in turn sparked deadly wildfires.

Iron Ox is currently growing Thai basil, strawberries, and cilantro. A new greenhouse measuring 535,000 square feet is being built by the company in Lockhart Texas. It’s located 30 miles (48km) south of Austin. 

Alexander stated that hydroponics, which saves water and allows plants to grow without soil, is only one part of future farming.

He stated that to eliminate all waste and achieve sustainability and impacts, it is necessary to completely rethink every aspect of the grow process.

Crosslink Capital, R7 Partners and Pathbreaker Ventures were some of the investors. Iron Ox did not comment on the valuation. 

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