Business development / Environment / Funding / Robotics

Pittsburgh agtech firm Four Growers is branching out

CEO Brandon Contino said the company's robotics capabilities have expanded to harvesting cucumbers. More growth is on the way.

Four Growers' robot harvesting a cucumber. (Photo courtesy of Four Growers)
Correction: An inaccurate sentence stating the number of deployed Four Growers robots has been removed. (8/28/23, 1:30 p.m.)

The pun is almost too easy: Turtle Creek-based agtech startup Four Growers is, itself, growing, thanks to advancements in its hardware and software capabilities.

Since the company was founded in 2017, it’s built a plant analytics platform aided by a robot called the GR-100 that can detect and harvest fruits and vegetables. Until now, its tools’ capabilities have been limited to harvesting cherry tomatoes.

Now, Four Growers CEO Brandon Contino told, the company is branching out to cucumbers. Why does that matter? According to Contino, like tomatoes, cucumbers are a produce that requires a lot of labor to harvest. But amid a national farm labor shortage, it can be a challenge to find workers to fill harvesting needs. That’s where Four Growers’ robotic arm comes in handy.

Cucumbers that Four Growers is harvesting. (Courtesy photo)

“Imagine a robot arm going down greenhouse rows and picking cherry and grape tomatoes. It speeds faster than even many, many people would be capable of,” Contino said. “Our whole goal is to be able to provide more sustainably grown higher quality and more affordable produce to everyone.”

By expanding to cucumbers, Contino said, the company hopes to help make produce more accessible. This expansion shows that the robotic arm could potentially be used for harvesting a host of fruits and vegetables.

“When we started building the first application of tomato harvesting robotics, we built and designed everything in such a way that this wouldn’t be a tomato harvesting robot,” the CEO said, “but that it was really a kind of an AI and analytics — and then robotics — platform that could do multiple different tasks and multiple different crops.”

Cucumbers Four Growers is planning to harvest. (Courtesy photo)

In the company’s earliest days, Contino said the company considered starting with a vertical farm, but soon the company’s leadership found that the model they wanted to use would have been too expensive to run and made produce more expensive for consumers, not less. Ultimately, neither Contino nor his cofounder felt they had the right skillset to make it sustainable. Instead, they settled on a greenhouse.

“Greenhouse farming is over 90% more water efficient, 30 times more land efficient, [and] climate invariants are all year round,” Contino said. “It had all those benefits we wanted in vertical farming, but with the big difference of, greenhouses are actually sustainable economic models that work to provide food to people.”

In Turtle Creek, Four Growers employs 12 people including directors of software and hardware, computer vision engineers, robotics engineers, and mechanical as well as electrical engineers, plus two technicians out in the field every day.

To date, the company has been backed by at least $7 million in venture capital (with potentially more on the way). Four Growers also has participated in the John Deere Startup Collaborative accelerator (alongside Philly-based agtech startup Burro), as well as the International Fresh Produce Association’s Fresh Field Catalyst program.

Contino said over the years he’s most enjoyed seeing the positive response that people have to the robotic arm and its capabilities.

“We are very engineering heavy, but I’d say our culture, and our focus is really heavily on the customer,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in the field, are very focused on building things that matter to them, and constantly getting feedback and input in designing with our customers.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Four Growers

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