Sabanto is taking a robo-tractor on the road to plant 10,000 acres this spring

With new company Sabanto, 640 labs co-founder Craig Rupp is hoping to plant 10,000 acres of farmland with soybeans this summer and fall—using automated equipment.

The company is the brainchild of Rupp and Kyler Laird, a southern Indiana farmer who began automating his farming equipment on his own a few years ago. Rupp, Sabanto’s CEO, will speak at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, March 6.

Rupp met Laird at an agricultural event, and Rupp was blown away by his automated equipment.

“He’s got a John Deere tractor and a John Deere planter completely automated,” Rupp said. “Who is this guy? He’s doing something no one else is doing.”

The two began thinking together about equipment autonomy, deciding its eventual adoption is an inevitability. They decided not to wait for large equipment manufacturers and instead start doing farm work using autonomous equipment themselves, taking to the road to plant. Thus Sabanto was born.

The company offers the farming capacity of its autonomous equipment as a service.

“I view us as being a Fed Ex,” Rupp said. “They have one of the largest trucking fleets in the country, but they’re not a trucking company.”

Instead, Fed Ex offers a service to consumers, and specifically they strive to offer the most efficient and optimized version of that service they can.

“My goal is to optimize operations,” Rupp said. “If purple tractors are (hypothetically) more efficient, than by God I’m going to use purple tractors.”

Their goal is to plant 10,000 acres this spring and fall in the US and Canada as a large-scale, cross-country demonstration of autonomy’s possibilities.

“We’re going out and planting soybeans this spring,” Rupp said. One reason for choosing soybeans as their crop is they don’t require a starter fertilizer.

In the future, Rupp said they would like to add autonomous tillage and harvesting to their set of services. They might begin doing tillage this fall or possibly in 2020.

It’s important to note Sabanto is not a manufacturer of autonomous equipment.

“I think creating autonomous equipment and selling that as a product is going to be very, very difficult,” Rupp said. Doing so entails many other complex factors like the needs to provide support and maintenance for the equipment.

Instead, all of Sabanto’s equipment is off-the-shelf; some of their software is as well, and some they write.

“We’re purely a software company,” Rupp said.

In addition to their mandate of maximized efficiency, Rupp and Laird also try to keep the costs of automation low.

“Five years from now, if we’re using planters that cost a half a million dollars, I’ve failed” Rupp said.

1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park. For more information on Sabanto, visit sabantoag.com.

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Austin Gerth