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On French farms, Fairme's robots produce yogurt and cheese in fully automated 'ateliers'

Selling products like yogurt and cheese offers dairy farmers a far higher margin than trucking off milk wholesale as a commodity. But most farms lack the skills, labor, equipment or space to do so. Fairme, a French startup based in Grenoble, is employing AI and robotics to provide a turnkey solution.

The company will place standalone ateliers on the properties of participating farms. Milk is pumped straight from their existing installations into what looks like a simple wooden shed but is actually a high-tech production facility. Fully automated, the system takes web and app orders from customers and manufactures and packages yogurt, soft cheese and ice cream on demand, as well as packaging milk. Fairme handles the entire process, from production to delivery, with no investment or labor from farmers. The startup pays a premium price for their milk and then takes its cut from sales to consumers.

Fairme was awarded funding through France 2030, a EUR 54 billion program developed to tackle ecological and social challenges; one of the program's six focal points is promoting "a third agricultural revolution, with food chains that respect biodiversity, and intelligent agro-equipment." Currently in a testing phase, ten Fairme ateliers are planned for this year, with another 100 to follow in 2024.

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If successful — given high upfront costs per unit, profitability could prove a sticking point — Fairme would solve a host of food and ag challenges.

Farmers net 1.5 to 2 times as much for their milk, and the food's transportation footprint is vastly reduced by selling products in the farm's direct vicinity (Fairme estimates a greenhouse gas reduction of nearly 50% could be achieved). Meanwhile, consumers get access to ultra-fresh, locally-manufactured dairy products with the feel-good factor of supporting farmers in their community.

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Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom