Taking the guesswork out of farming. Image via Shutterstock.com
Which way will the wind blow or the crop-munching pests flow? Cosmologists, meteorologists and agronomists have tried to answer these questions since the beginning of time.
The Israeli company ScanTask is crowdsourcing data from the farm to answer these questions better, taking the guesswork and risks out of farming.
This is exactly the kind of technology that massive companies like PepsiCo, Syngenta, and Monsanto said that they needed at the recent Agrivest conference in Israel.
ScanTask, started in 2008 and operating in stealth mode until now, was founded by Israel Fraier, who calls his technology the Waze of agriculture.
Waze is an Israeli-designed app that lets users know about traffic patterns in real time to find the best route. It was sold to Google this year for $1 billion. ScanTask does the same crowdsourcing job for the farm, so that farmers can know what to plant, when to harvest and when it’s possible to avoid spraying.
“If we can predict that there will be a heat wave tomorrow, we can tell all the farmers in the region nearby not to spray their fields with chemicals, because the heat wave will get rid of the pests anyway,” says Fraier, a serial entrepreneur who built five startups over the last 16 years in enterprise software, medical devices and military electro-optics.
The automated AgriTask system gives so much information to farmers that it can free up their hands, enabling them to plant larger areas, Fraier says.
“This knowledge is usually on the shelves. We somehow digest this knowledge and transform it to decision-support information,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
ScanTask has been self-funded to date, and won a Galileo program grant from the EU to develop its solution. A pilot program is servicing about 22,000 field plots in Israel, managed by more than 1,000 farmers.
The company seeks financing of $4 million to take AgriTask to the global market.
The software and cloud-based system, formed with experts from Israel’s Volcani Agricultural Research Organization, relies on a massive integration of information — weather reports, GIS data, local agriculture information from governments and data from individual farms.
Based on a complicated algorithm that crunches numbers, AgriTask handles information that is difficult to implement. “Agriculture is not like moving materials in a warehouse. It is something alive,” Fraier points out.
The system takes two weeks to install and requires no special hardware. It can be customized remotely by the company, based in Holon, Israel.
AgriTask could also provide forecasting capabilities for governments and cooperatives in order to circumvent damages. Consider Peru’s coffee industry, which failed from a rust pest. The government gave millions of dollars to local farmers as compensation.
Theoretically, the system could work for small farms on a cooperative basis. Smaller farms usually have a manager who networks with all the stakeholders. The manager would buy a subscription to AgriTask, about $1 per month per hectare, and advise farmers collectively on how to deal with threats.
The tool could be a boon for farmers looking to cut the use of chemicals, as it can consider the toxicity levels of pesticides when recommending treatment — even dipping into alternatives from the world of integrated pest management, says Fraier.
Knowing that rivalry comes into play on the farm –– Fraier has heard of young farmer neighbors who still don’t speak to each other because their grandfathers argued decades ago –– AgriTask comes with a “cover” option so users can decide how much, and to whom, to reveal privileged information about their personal planting schedules and problems.
Every scenario can be controlled inside the system, which is accessible by cellphone or computer on at least a 2.5G network.
The multilingual solution can be applicable to forestry, and even to animal-based agriculture to help monitor avian flu, swine flu, rabies, the MERS virus or mad cow disease.
According to Miriam Silberstein, a renowned Israeli expert in integrated pest management, AgriTask is the best regional agronomic system available.
“Using the system enabled our team to manage, in real time, thousands of highly variable plots, improve recommendations for optimized spraying and remarkably reduce pesticide use without further damages to crops.
“I have seen many companies that claim they have a computerized system which helps farmers manage their farms; most of them startups that develop a computer program without any field experience. AgriTask offers a real comprehensive applicative system, with significant field experience. It is also friendly to all its users – farmers, decision makers and managers,” Silberstein says.
For more on AgriTask, see the company website: http://www.scantask.com/