Chinese smart farming startup secures $15m in new funding

AIForceTech, a Chinese startup that provides smart farm equipment, has raised tens of millions of yuan in a Series A+ funding round led by Chinese venture capital company China Creation Ventures.

Company shareholders Vertex Venture and Delian Capital also invested.

AIForceTech has so far secured a total of more than 100 million yuan ($15.8 million), combined with money raised in a Series A round in June last year.

Founded in 2019, AIForceTech offers unmanned farm equipment and farmworker services, which enhance productivity and help offset labor shortages.

In China, the urbanization rate — the percentage of the population living in urban areas — has continued to rise. The country’s urbanization rate stood at 63.9%, according to the seventh national census conducted in 2020. Some data even suggests that the rate could reach 75% to 80% by 2035.

Labor shortages have thus become a serious problem for the agriculture sector, making better productivity an imperative. Connecting autonomous driving to farming could help solve this.

Li Deyi, chief scientist at AIForceTech, is a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Founder and CEO Wei Han completed his doctorate at Tsinghua University and studied autonomous driving for more than 10 years under Li. The company has about 40 engineers, who come from universities in China and overseas, including Tsinghua University, the University of California in the U.S. and Waseda University in Japan.

AIForceTech has already released several products to both large agricultural producers and individual farms.

One of its products, Virtual Driver, can be attached to a wide variety of commercially available farm equipment. Tractors installed with Virtual Driver enable 24-hour unmanned operation, handling cultivation, leveling, planting, weeding, pesticide spraying and other labor-intensive tasks. The weeding function can significantly decrease the use of pesticides.

“We want to replace skilled tractor drivers,” Han said.

Previously, the output of manual farm work has been dependent to a large extent on the skill of farm machinery operators. AIForceTech aims to compile the knowledge of skilled workers to optimize computer systems that would allow unmanned farm equipment to meet — or surpass — the performance of manned tractor drivers.

Han said that AIForceTech rapidly built a business model in only a few years. The company has teamed up with Beidahuang Group, Cofco and other large state-owned companies as well as several agricultural machinery cooperatives.

The company has provided unmanned farm work services in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Hebei along with the city of Beijing and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

AIForceTech’s primary revenue comes from the sales and service of unmanned farm equipment, with cumulative sales of nearly 10 million yuan to date.

“Before unmanned farming equipment was introduced, a number of workers had to take turns driving one tractor during peak seasons. But now one driver can operate a number of tractors at the same time,” Han said.

AIForceTech has successfully automated the entire process of fieldwork for corn, soy, wheat and cotton production, and now aims for potatoes and rice. It also plans to widen the scope of its smart farm machinery to work hilly areas and smaller gardens.

AIForceTech currently does business mainly in northeastern China but plans to branch out to other areas of the country later this year.