6 IoT in Agriculture Solutions from AgTech Startups
There are about 7.6 billion people on our little spinning blue ball. That number is projected to surge to about 10 billion by mid-century. You know what that means? Yes, longer queue lines for the restroom at Yo-Yo Ma concerts. It also means that the world will need to produce between 60 and 70 percent more food calories by 2050 to feed our future population. Not only will there be about two billion more mouths to feed, but the global middle class is projected to grow enormously, and we’re not just talking about their waistlines. China alone will have a population with disposable income that will be larger than the United States in the not too distant future. That all means we need to get smarter about how we grow our food. Technology to the rescue through the use of IoT in agriculture.
The Internet of Things in agriculture is a group of technologies that include soil sensors, cameras (smile, piggy), weather stations and other technological gadgets that gather data about farming operations. All that data can then be sliced and diced by algorithms or other software and turned into various insights, such as whether a vital nutrient is missing in the soil, threats from a pest, or whether Bessie the Cow is unhappy. (You’d be pissed off, too, if some stranger put his cold hands on your teats every morning.)
Alpha Brown, a research firm that specializes in agriculture, estimates that between 10 percent and 15 percent of farmers use some sort of IoT in agriculture solutions, spending nearly $1 billion, according to AgFunder News. In other words, there’s lots of market penetration potential. Top-funded agtech startups like Farmers Business Network and Farmer’s Edge help growers gather tons of data to manage their operations in order to boost yields and profitability. And the space is rapidly growing. Below we’ve gathered together six early-stage startups that we’ve never covered before that are developing and deploying IoT in agriculture solutions.
IoT in Agriculture for Dairy Operations
Cows are sacred in India, which has been the world’s leading milk producer for more than 20 years. Talk about lots of cow manure and market potential. No wonder Stellapps out of Bangalore, India, raised $14 million in May from organizations and firms as diverse as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM). The latter is no doubt interested in the seven-year-old startup’s 26 different sensors that collect data across the entire cow supply chain. For example, wearable devices collect health data by monitoring the number of standing/resting hours on a daily basis. Another instrument can analyze fat content of milk. All of that information is collected and collated in the cloud. We’ve seen other cloud-based systems for livestock monitoring from startups like HerdDogg, which recently raised a $2.3 million Seed round.
Stellapps offers a suite of applications for everything from milk production to procurement, as well as a mobile payment app and even an insurance app (MooKare, of course), which provides estimates based on IoT data on herd health and output.
IoT in Agriculture for Weather Prediction at the Farm
Founded in 2013 out of New Jersey, Arable has raised $9.8 million for its multifaceted crop and weather sensor named the Mark. Arable recently hired a former Monsanto executive, who had led the ag company’s IoT platform division, as its new CEO. The Mark is capable of collecting about 40 different types of data, from rain and hail to irrigation needs and even air pollution:
The sensor is reputedly the only one on the market that combines weather and plant measurements. The platform uses machine-learning to continuously update weather forecasts for individual fields using in-field observations and weather models. All that data feeds into the startup’s platform to provide various insights including yield forecasts. AgFunder news reported that berry producer Driscoll reduced yield forecast uncertainty from 20 percent to 5 percent, saving the company $18,000 per field per week.
IoT in Agriculture to Monitor Grain Storage
Founded in 2014, Telesense in Silicon Valley just announced a $6.5 million Series A in August. Apparently, there’s a lot more involved in the grain supply chain than just waiting around to buy overpriced artisanal loaves of sourdough wheat at the local farmers market. Grain storage is one of them. TeleSense has developed a sensor ball, which looks like a dog’s chew toy, that is just tossed onto a pile of grain. It then transmits data multiple times a day about the temperature and humidity in the storage facility in order to avoid spoilage or other problems, which can cost upwards of $12 billion in losses each year. The company’s artificial intelligence platform, GrainSafe, can also help with decisions such as the optimal time to sell in order to boost profits. Telesense also provides sensors and solutions for cold storage and food transportation.
IoT in Agriculture for Pest Management
Founded in 2013, an Israeli startup called FieldIn has raised a total of $5 million, including $4 million in January, to help specialty growers (think vineyards and orchards) to manage pest control. Special sensors monitor pesticide applications. AI algorithms then go to work, pulling in sensor data and other information such as weather, to help with more precise pesticide applications. There is a growing need to improve—and limit—the use of chemical inputs like pesticides and herbicides, which can affect both human health and the environment. A startup called Blue River Technology, for instance, had used computer vision for better weed control. Deere and Company eventually bought Blue River for about $305 million last year, triple the amount that had been invested up until then.
Update 09/06/19: Fieldin has raised $12 million in funding to fuel growth and expand its precision agriculture technology. This brings the company’s total funding to $18 million to date.
IoT in Agriculture for Utility Management
The use of IoT technology for improving energy efficiency and water management is also making its way to the farm through a San Francisco-based startup called Wexus Technology, which has raised $4.8 million (mostly in grants) since it was founded in 2014. Wexus connects a farm’s utility data to track irrigation pumps, buildings, processing equipment, and solar arrays via cloud technology. For example, it can remotely track irrigation pump efficiency and alert users to pumps that need maintenance, are at risk of failure, or dropping well water levels—much like other Industrial IoT solutions that monitor equipment.
One customer, Jackson Family Wines with operations on five continents, contracted with Wexus to track energy and water usage, as well as costs, in real-time for irrigation pumps at two of the company’s vineyards in California. To date, Wexus has identified more than $9,000 in cost savings and reduced power demand through alerts. That’s a pretty good ROI even under the startup’s most expensive plan, which charges $179 per meter, per month.
IoT in Agriculture for Drone Deployment
The use of drones to monitor farmland in order to identify problems or improve yield is another growth area. Plus, drones are fun. A couple of years ago, we profiled a company called AgEagle Aerial Systems (NYSE American:UAVS), a very small-cap company that builds drones capable of collecting thousands of ultra-high-resolution pictures using sophisticated near-infrared sensors that can be analyzed by computers to determine crop health. Now we have American Robotics, a Boston area startup that has raised about $3.1 million for an autonomous drone system that can upload its data to the cloud for real-time insights on crop health.
The drone system is called Scout, which can be programmed for missions remotely. It lives in a box near the field where it operates, taking off and returning autonomously, uploading its data from the base station after each mission. It looks like we’re getting ever closer to the day when robots can do all the work on a farm.
Many of today’s farmers might gripe that “Back in my day, we didn’t have no drones flying around the cornfields, just creepy kids performing satanic human rights sacrifices.” But we’d bet the farm that within the next decade IoT technologies will be adopted by more growers than not, as the world moves to more “precise” systems, whether we’re talking about personalized health or smart home appliances. The end result is less waste and better outcomes—like not starving to death or eating insects.