PARTNERS IN GROWTH
Bear Flag Robotics’ best-in-class modern farming systems allow our growers to rapidly scale their businesses while adding minimal cost. We retrofit existing tractors with patented AI technology. By equipping tractors with advanced automation systems, we help farms achieve operational success.
ADVOCACY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
Bear Flag aims to reduce the cost of growing food while increasing global food production. Our company commits itself to sustainable and cost-efficient farming practices.
We’re a passionate team going for big impact by solving some of the biggest challenges in farming today. We listen closely to our customers, iterate quickly, and (over) deliver to delight them. We care about giving people an opportunity to do meaningful and rewarding work. If you’re dedicated to solving real problems in weeks or months, not years and years, you’ll like it here.
Bear Flag Robotics want to take the next generation of growers and farmworkers to the next level with productive, efficient, and modern farming operations. Keep up with our farming technology developments.
A Short History of Bear Flag Robotics
Bear Flag Robotics is an agricultural technology company focused on developing self-driving technology for tractors in order to increase farm efficiency in North America. We intend to expand our operations globally in the near future. Our story began in 2017 in Silicon Valley, with our co-founders Aubrey Donnellan and Igino Cafiero. We focus on the development of autonomous farming tractors that are compatible with existing farm machinery. Bear Flag Robotics does not sell tractors; rather, we retrofit existing tractors with patented artificial intelligence technology to increase their efficiency and productivity. We recently shared some exciting news about our acquisition by John Deere. In the wake of that announcement, we have been receiving numerous inquiries about our company: how we got started, how we have evolved, and why we do what we do. Read on for a brief history of Bear Flag Robotics. Early Funding And Partnerships In the fall of 2017, we joined the Y Combinator program. This program is a seed money startup accelerator with a very strict selection process; the program has aided nearly 3,000 startups like ours since its inception in 2005. Our experience of the Y Combinator program concluded in 2018, as part of their winter class. Upon completion of the program, we received a total of $120,000 in seed money for our startup. Our company expanded fast, and a growing number of investors recognized the value of our unique approach to robotics. We partnered with True Ventures in 2018 and raised an additional $3.5 million. After two years, we secured a $7.9 million seed extension led by True Ventures in collaboration with Graphene Ventures, AgFunder, D20, and Green Cow VC. We have been adding customers for a long time. However, in early 2021, Bear Flag partnered with Church Brothers Farms; one of the largest farms in the United States, based in the Salinas Valley of California. Acquisition By John Deere In 2019, we began working with John Deere as part of their Startup Collaborator program. The collaboration was a success, and in August 2021, we were acquired by the company. The partnership was made possible by the fact that Bear Flag's technology complements Deere's own technology initiatives, and their macro goal of assisting farmers in achieving optimal results and overcoming modern agricultural challenges through the use of advanced technology like robotics solutions. The agreement, valued at $250 million, was signed between Deere & Company and Bear Flag Robotics in August of 2021. This agreement has resulted in a significant acceleration of the development and implementation of our farm automation. The deal reaffirmed John Deere's long-term strategic objective of developing smarter machines equipped with advanced technology in order to meet the needs of its large customer base. The Future Of Bear Flag Robotics Bear Flag Robotics was founded to empower farmers. Our objective is not to replace farmworkers, but to free them from mundane tasks and enable them to focus on other revenue-generating tasks around the farm. One of the most significant challenges farmers face today is a shortage of skilled labor to perform time-sensitive operations. We recognize the value of robotics in providing productive alternatives for farmers. Throughout our history, we have pioneered a sustainable, accessible, and efficient farming solution. We were founded to bring food production costs down while increasing global output. Our company is dedicated to developing the best-in-class technology for autonomous agricultural equipment. With the new impetus provided by the expertise of John Deere, we are excited about what the future holds. To keep up with our farming technology developments, sign up for our newsletter and receive regular updates and news about Bear Flag Robotics.
Announcing Our Acquisition by John Deere
Looking to the Future Of Bear Flag Robotics Bear Flag Robotics was founded in 2017 with the goal of bringing more productive and efficient farming operations to the next generation of growers – across the US and beyond. We are pleased to announce that we have taken another step toward achieving the highest version of this goal. We have been acquired by John Deere for $250 million. John Deere brings more than 180 years of expertise to our operation. We look forward to marrying this expertise with that of the Bear Flag team, and working in tandem to further drive productivity and profitability for farmers everywhere. In this blog, we wanted to unpack this acquisition news a little, and look ahead to the future of our partnership with John Deere. Scaling as Partners Since its inception, Bear Flag Robotics has been committed to developing the most advanced autonomous tractors possible, in order to drive more productive and efficient farming operations. Our goal has always been to develop the most sophisticated autonomous tractors in the world, to empower farmers to meet the challenges of modern agriculture. In 2019, Bear Flag participated in John Deere’s Startup Collaborator program. The Startup Collaborate program enables John Deere to deepen its connection with startup companies whose technology has the potential to add value for their customers. During the program, the Bear Flag team held meetings with the John Deere tillage team, in which we explored how tillage passes could be improved in the field with the help of autonomous tractors. These were highly productive conversations, which helped to advance a number of technical discussions already underway with our team. Since the completion of the program, we have successfully deployed autonomous tractors solutions at multiple farms across the United States. These deployments have been highly successful, and helped farmers to optimize their operations while adding minimal cost. Our experience with the John Deere Startup Collaborator program marked the start of a relationship that has culminated in this acquisition. Combatting Labor Shortages Despite popular misconceptions, farms do not have access to an easy supply of skilled labor. Many modern farmers face a serious challenge sourcing labor to execute time-sensitive tasks that impact operations. In the coming years, this labor shortage is likely to get worse, not better. Our autonomous tractors provide a solution to the challenge of labor shortages. We enable farms to execute all of the work they need, regardless of the success of their recruitment effort. We ensure that farms everywhere can increase food production. In this, we are perfectly aligned with John Deere’s vision for the future of farming. As Dan Leibfried, Director of Automation & Autonomy at Deere & Company, put it: “Deere and Bear Flag are highly complementary from both a technology and mission perspective. We look forward to working even closer together with the ultimate goal of helping farmers achieve the best possible outcomes through advanced technology like autonomy.” The acquisition also accelerates John Deere's long-term strategy of remaining a major player within autonomous equipment manufacturing. We are excited to be part of this dynamic, expanding market. As, Jahmy Hindman, Chief Technology Officer at John Deere, said: "Deere views autonomy as an important step forward in enabling farmers to leverage their resources strategically to feed the world and create more sustainable and profitable operations. Bear Flag's team of talented agriculture professionals, engineers and technologists have a proven ability to deliver advanced technology solutions to market. Joining that expertise and experience with Deere's expertise in autonomy, along with our world-class dealer channel, will accelerate the delivery of solutions to farmers that address the immense challenge of feeding a growing world." Our agriculture professionals, engineers, and technologists focused on autonomy, sensor fusion, vision, data, software, and hardware will remain in Silicon Valley, where we will collaborate closely with Deere to accelerate innovation and autonomy for customers worldwide.
Addressing the Farm Labor Shortage Through Automation
American farmers are facing widespread labor shortages. The causes of these shortages are complex and multifaceted, but four key factors are an ageing agricultural workforce, decreased interest in farming, stricter immigration laws, and rising wages. Farm labor shortages have not materialized overnight; they have been an issue for decades. In the second half of the 20th century, there was a 52% decline in hired farm workers. The problem worsens every year, and if the trend continues, it will seriously affect farm productivity, and potentially impact the world’s food supply. Automated farming systems can help alleviate the pressures of the US farm labor shortage. Agtech can bring new efficiencies to farm systems, and drive overall productivity, without requiring that costs to soar in tandem. Read on to know more about how automation can provide a solution to the farm labor shortage crisis. The Key Causes of the Farm Labor Shortage In an article published by Farm Bureau in July 2019, Zippy Duval, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation said: “Farmers and ranchers in every state tell me that the shortage of labor is the greatest limiting factor on their farms.” In the intervening two years, the pressures have grown. The agricultural labor shortage has been increasingly felt nationwide by both small and large farms. An article published by the The American Society of Mechanical Engineers in July 2020 revealed one key cause: Americans are not very interested in farm jobs. Arzum Akkas, a professor of operations and technology management at Boston University, recalled how “during the last recession, from 2007 to 2009, farmers in North Carolina tried hiring domestic laborers. There were 6,500 job openings. Only 163 people showed up, and only seven of them kept their jobs.” The broader causes of farm labor shortage are complex, but key factors include: An Ageing Farmer Population A study conducted by AgAmerica Lending shows that current farmers are, on average, around 60 yrs old. Unfortunately, the workforce is unlikely to be replenished soon, because according to the National Young Farmers Coalition, younger people are showing little to no interest in farming. A decreased interest in farming, combined with the ageing farmer population, is a recipe for labor shortages. The effects are compounded by the fact that old farmers tend to be less productive than their younger counterparts. As their workers age, farmers need fresh workers more and more – but finding them is very difficult. Stricter Rules for Immigrant Farmers According to the U.S. Department Of Agriculture, immigrant farm workers make up an estimated 73% of agriculture workers in the United States today. Unfortunately, foreign farmers are having a hard time securing a working visa to continue working in US fields. In recent years, getting H-2A visas has become increasingly difficult for foreign farmers, which has contributed to the US farm labor shortage. The H-2A program is also extremely expensive, so it is hard to earn a profit while remaining sustainable. In an interview, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried believes that the best way to fix the H-2A process is to start with immigration reform. She said that: “Agriculture needs to have a seat at the table when we’re discussing what to do on immigration as we move forward in the country. This needs to be something that we come together bi-partisan and recognize that our workforce, when it comes to agriculture, is drastically impacted by the decisions that we make on immigration and how we evolve the H-2A program.” Increased Farmer Wages As farms across the country are already having a hard time sourcing labor, the rising minimum wage has only added to the labor crisis. This is a particularly pressing issue in California, where the minimum wage will increase to $15 in 2023. California accounts for 60% of agriculture in the US, but an increase in labor costs will inevitably result in higher food costs for consumers (as well as increased food waste). This increase in production cost is one of the main reasons for the farm labor shortage. As farm wages go up, farmers are left with few options. They are forced to find the financial room for further hiring, extend the capacity of their existing workers, increase their prices, or shift to automated processes in order to reduce labor costs. Reluctance to Live in Rural Areas According to International Labor Organization data, the percentage of people working in agriculture has decreased from 44% in 1991 to 26% in 2020. This is a rapid drop, and it is due in no small part to a demographic issue: fewer and fewer people are living close to farms. Farm fields are usually located in the countryside, far away from the city. In a BBC article, Andrea Sosa, an agricultural researcher at Argentina's National University of San Martin, said that the lack of a high standard of living often drives potential new farmers away from rural areas. Without nearby workers, it becomes very hard for farms to find workers. How Can Automation Help Solve the Farm Labor Shortage? Tom Nassif, the Western Growers Association President, said in an interview: “Without immigration reform and a useful guest worker program in the US, we need to try and develop ways to rely more on our own ingenuity and tech solutions rather than on the government.” Autonomous tractors represent one of these "tech solutions." The use of technology can help alleviate labor shortages by automating mundane tasks and leaving important jobs to skilled workers. A fleet of autonomous tractors can operate a huge field with minimal human supervision; in effect, this technology allows farmers to break the one man, one tractor paradigm. Advanced sensors can also help in soil analysis, seed planting accuracy and efficient land tilling. With the use of autonomous tractors, farmer owners no longer have to worry about the ageing population, since operating a single unit autonomous tractor is easy and can be done remotely using any smart device. A single tractor operator can do the job of an entire group of tractor operators. When fewer workers are required, the pressures of hiring labor vanish. Automation and the Future of Farm Labor As highlighted by Bloomberg, as U.S. farm income declines and farm labor becomes increasingly unreliable, the prospect of using robotics and automation on farms is becoming more and more attractive to farmers. And with good reason. Contact Bear Flag today and know how we can help with your farm labor shortage.