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Aker Technologies scores $2.6m for automated crop scouting tech

September 4, 2019

St. Louis-based Aker Technologies is on a mission to boost precision farming with a remote monitoring and analytics platform that gives growers, retailers and suppliers better in-field insights.

The company has secured $2.6 million in equity financing from venture capital firms Lewis & Clark Ventures, Flyover Capital and Central Illinois Angels, all of whom invest in middle U.S. startups.

“We are delighted to welcome investors who recognize the innovation gap in an increasingly variable climate environment and the potential of our technology across the industry,” Aker co-founder Orlando Saez said in a statement.

The company plans to use the capital to enhance its TrueCause autonomous crop-scouting platform and its Pest Network platform, which together offer “under-the-canopy” crop diagnostics and analysis of input effectiveness.

Hardware to software

When Aker launched in 2016, the platform was built around a surveillance drone network intended to support the work of field scouts. The company entered the market in competition with other unmanned aerial vehicle companies, as well as services offering remote imaging via manned aircraft and satellite data collection. It touted its drones’ high resolution multi-spectral sensors and services for plots as small as 120 acres as competitive advantages.

Aker still competes with companies like Terravion and Taranis, and indirectly, with satellite image providers. What sets it apart, Saez told AFN, is its ability to provide detailed analytics and diagnostics under the growth canopy.

“Growers are facing an expanded range of environmental variability that leads to greater changes and risk from microclimate across fields that affect the conditions for disease and pests,” he said. “Aker is working to automate the process crop scouting or “ground-truthing,” which enables precision agriculture at a [highly] granular level to facilitate better in-field insights.”

For example, growers can use Aker’s analytics to assess subterranean soil moisture and drainage, which can inform where to install drainage tiles. It can also be used to gauge residues from past planting seasons and their impact on soil temperatures.

In one case, a soybean farmer used field images from Aker in an insurance claim against a neighboring farm whose herbicide treatment had drifted and damaged the soy crop.

“We have seen a lot of startups building crop observation via remote sensing technologies and predictive crop models, but nothing as innovative as Aker’s technology,” said Larry Page, principal at Lewis & Clark.

Partnering with industry

Aker was fortunate to get an early foothold with several “large chemical suppliers,” Saez said. “Our work is supporting the industry to drive profitable higher crop yields and sustainable in-season decisions.” He declined to name Aker’s partners, other than Danforth Plant Science Center, which is also in St. Louis.

With the injection of equity capital, Aker hopes to accelerate its sensor research and hardware manufacturing so it can expand geographically. Saez says that in addition to the financial support, Aker will lean on the expertise and networks of its investors who are “from the Midwest, [and] bring strategic advice based on their working experience in agriculture, and have strong relationships with our prospective customers.”

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