The worst job in ag? TerraClear raises US$15m to free farmers from chore of rock picking

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: TerraClear
Image: TerraClear

Related tags farmer Precision agriculture AI

Rock removal company TerraClear has announced its existing investors have poured an additional US$15 million into capturing the untapped US$2.7 rock management market. A 5,000-year-old problem finally has a solution, it says.

Why is this market ripe for disruption? For all the innovation that's happened in agriculture some of the worst jobs on a farm like rock-picking have been overlooked, a spokesperson told AgTechNavigator. “Mechanical and human solutions have been available for a long time, but none truly solved the problem. Solving the problem completely – by ensuring that you've gotten all the problematic rocks – is worth a lot to farmers.”

Founded in 2017, TerraClear’s solution uses computer vision, artificial intelligence, and robotics to automate what many consider the most frustrating problem in agriculture.

Farmers have been willing to pay for mechanical solutions, like "rock rakes" and "rock reels", the spokesperson explained. The problem, however, is that those can miss rocks and can only be used in limited field conditions due to field disturbance. “Our solution is holistic in that we use computer vision and AI to locate the rocks first. Then our robotic rock-picker, a precision tool, can be used to grab just the rocks without disturbing the soil. Because of this, our solution can be used after planting, something that is out of the question with existing mechanical solutions.” 

An affordable solution?

The company’s ‘Rock Map’ is currently priced a US$4 per acre. “Many farmers buy just the map, which is delivered via our app, and then use that to selectively hand-pick rocks,” the spokesperson continued. “Our Rock Picking Service, where we take care of it all, is another US$2-9 per acre on top of the map. We custom quote each service job based on the map, so farmers only pay for the rocks they want to be removed. We use our TC80 Rock Picker for all service jobs because it's the most efficient way to pick rock.” Some farmers have purchased their own TC80s, which currently retail for US$19,999. 

Service - Picking on Field with CGI (1)
The company uses computer vision, artificial intelligence, and robotics to automate the drudgery of rock picking. Image: TerraClear

The company says it receives steady interest from Europe, Australia, and Canada. But its predominant focus is in America’s heartland, where it says farmers large and small are enjoying the process of rock clearance for the first time in their lives, while also saving costs on labour and equipment damage.

Is rock picking ever ‘fun’?

How easy is it for farmers to use? The Rock Map is intuitive and works on virtually any mobile device, we were told. “The TC80 Rock Picker attaches to most skid loaders and utility tractors. Controlled by a joystick, the TC80 Rock Picker is easy to use even for people without experience operating farm equipment. Many master it in just hours. What we hear frequently from farmers is that it's ‘fun’ to use the TC80 Rock Picker. Of course, the ultimate ‘easy button’ solution is our Rock Picking Service. Farmers give us their field outlines, tell us when they want us to pick their rocks, and we take care of the rest.

“Farmers tell us where they want them dumped and we'll create a pile of rocks for them. We aren't involved in what farmers do with the rocks after we've piled them. Most farmers leave them by the side of their fields. Some will sell them to rock-crushing businesses.” 

But rocks are just the beginning, the company says. It has collected data about soil conditions, debris, rocks, efficient path planning, and now has an extensible platform to expand datasets that translate farmer solutions into new areas. As it integrates its AI technology across high resolution data acquisition, decision support, and robotics, it believes it will gain a huge advantage in delivering tangible solutions for farmers.

“Our success is in developing innovative yet practical solutions that solve farmers’ problems,” added TerraClear’s president Trevor Thompson. “The additional funds enable us to move faster to meet demand, as well as increase investment in strategic OEM partnerships, and advance our technology.”

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