The Yield, the Australian sensing, IoT and predictive analytics startup for aquaculture and agriculture, has raised $6.5 million in Series A funding from three global corporations; hardware giant Bosch, consultancy group KPMG, and online investment platform AgFunder.
The investment marks the first for AgFunder’s Opportunity Fund and takes The Yield’s total investment to $11.5 million.
The startup will use the funding to expand beyond aquaculture, its first target market in Australia, and into the US where it will focus on customers on the West Coast growing intensive, irrigated crops.
The Yield focuses on monitoring microclimates to give farmers granular and predictive insights about what’s happening at multiple points on their farm using artificial intelligence and predictive modelling.
In aquaculture, the ability to measure small changes in the environment can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Yield has specifically focused on oyster production until now, which is a $76 million market in Australia.
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As filter feeders, oysters are particularly susceptible to pollution, so regulators conservatively shut down harvesting when heavy rains might wash contaminants into bays. The decision to open or close bays has typically been done by monitoring rain gauges from public weather stations that could be hundreds of miles away. The impact of these closures is significant. In New South Wales alone in 2015, closures resulted in 161 days of lost productivity. Farmers can lose between $20k-$100k a day during a closure, depending on the time of the year. The Yield collects real-time data from sensors that sit in oyster leases and analyze water. This information is ingested into the cloud, where artificial intelligence and advanced analytics make data-based predictions on the impact of weather events on the quality of the water. These data are shared with growers and regulators to prevent the closure of bays at unnecessary times.
Measuring microclimate changes is important for crop growers too. Speaking at The Forbes Mixing Bowl conference in New York recently, Tom Am Rhein, VP at berry producer Naturipe Growers, complained that existing technologies didn’t account for all the microclimates across his land.
Petra Doust, crop production manager at Houston’s Farms in Australia, agrees.
“At the moment, we make most of our critical decisions about timing and harvest by just manually looking at the crop or sampling the soil or plants and waiting a couple of days for the results. There’s a time lag, and often that means we miss the best opportunity to rectify the problem, which then affects the quality and shelf life of our bagged salad mixes,” she said.
Houston’s Farms, which is one of Australia’s largest lettuce operations, loses about 200 tons of lettuce each year to water-related issues, and the producer is hopeful predictive sensing technologies like The Yield will take the guesswork out of farming.
A key differentiator of The Yield compared to other sensing & IoT companies is that it doesn’t sell its sensors; they are provided to customers as part of an end-to-end subscription package including hardware, apps, and the data analytics platform. All the responsibility of maintaining, servicing, and calibrating them sits with The Yield, answering some pain points expressed by growers and retailers using sensors in the past.
“An important thing that I picked up in doing due diligence on The Yield was the accuracy of the information they’re getting. And, because they started out in harsh, marine environments, the sensors are very hardy, with many producers saying they never need to calibrate them, which is rare,” said Michael Dean, CIO of AgFunder.
Ros Harvey, the CEO of The Yield, is excited about the expertise her new investors bring to the table.
“We now have some of the world’s best engineers from Bosch working on our microclimate system, we have KPMG’s deep industry insights and commercial expertise, and AgFunder’s global community helping us bring solutions to growers in Australia and beyond,” she said.
Image: Justin Goc, GM of Barilla Bay Oysters checking data from his water environment on The Yield’s app.