There are now countless precision ag platforms that promise farmers smarter application of inputs, more accurate planting and harvesting windows, and better management of labor and other resources. But one chief complaint among farmers about agtech is that the creators often don’t understand enough about the day-to-day grind of farming.
“Our company was started by growers for growers, so we worked directly with farmers early on to address the pain points they were seeing in the field,” Boaz Bacahr, CEO and founder of Israeli smart farming platform Fieldin, told AFN. “It seems like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard startups talk about growers and farming like a foreign concept. The agriculture industry was here long before we were, and will be here long after.”
Using data analytics and artificial intelligence, FieldIn analyzes geospatial, chemical, biological, weather and other data to help growers plan their pesticide applications and then monitor them in real time to spot any errors in the application. The startup targets commercial-scale fruit, nut, and vegetable growers as well as application subcontractors who produce at least 1,000 acres. Some of their clients have tens of thousands of acres under management.
Fieldin won the Most Innovative US Startup Pre-Series A category for AgFunder’s 2019 Innovation Awards among a shortlist of startups nominated by the award’s committee, a who’s who in agri-foodtech venture capital.
“In the past, our growers have been burned by a number of agtech companies that have come and gone. Our customers trust our technology and the service we provide. In parallel, we’ve created an “ambassador plan” that allows us to receive hundreds of new leads from our partners in the industry – some of the largest machinery dealers in the business,” Bachar explains.
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“Having worked with the top growers in the major ag regions we serve, we’ve learned they just want to work with a team they can trust. A team that delivers, and puts service first. If you can do that, and come up with a solution that makes their everyday life easier, and has a quick ROI, they’ll spread the word for you.”
We chatted more with Bachar to learn about what makes his platform unique and where the company is headed.
What would you list as the three biggest contributors to your success?
Customer service. The biggest contributor to our success has been what we call “Customer Success.” Your technology is only as good as the user. Our users have to not only adopt our technology but have success with it. And that doesn’t happen without a team that’s dedicated to grower success.
Second, offering a significant ROI. Growers aren’t going to invest in your technology unless they see immediate, substantial ROI with it. Fortunately, we have a short sales cycle and are able to show immediate ROI after just one or two spray events. That ability to help growers maximize production and improve their bottom line is what’s helped us scale and go from trial period to full rollout in a short amount of time.
Finally, having boots on the ground. On top of having an amazing technology, you need to have an amazing team that understands farming. And we have that. Our COO and co-founder Iftach Birger comes from farming and heads our product. We’ve attracted some of the greatest minds in the industry on the sales, support, marketing, and business development side. And our R&D team delivers like no other.
We continue to evolve our technology every day with new modules and services that come directly from grower needs in the field. We see the problems they’re faced with every day, and we’ve made it our mission to solve those.
What are three challenges that you’ve faced along the way?
We’re growing rapidly, having just moved into Australia, and Argentina, and continue to expand each day. So the three biggest challenges I’d say for us are:
- With the growth of our technology and steep increase in smart farm adoption, we need to continue our momentum without compromising the level of service our customers have become accustomed to. For us, grower support is everything.
- Hiring, we are growing rapidly, and this growth demands quality people who are going to support our growers and who can be on-boarded rapidly. As CEO, I invest a significant amount of time looking for the most talented folks in the industry to join our cause.
- Understanding the international markets we’re moving into is key. Our platform has come a long way over the last few years, but it can also be tailored to the specific needs of each customer. For example, in California, the growers’ top concern is labor, while in Argentina it might be HLB (citrus greening). It just goes to show how in touch you have to be with the market if you’re going to provide growers with the solution they’re going to adopt and have success with.
What is one thing you wish consumers understood better about food, farming, and technology?
There’s actually a lot of technology that goes into our food. Growers often catch a bad rap because they’re not seen as a tech-savvy user base. But the truth is, in California, for example, we have some huge growers that manage their operations like Fortune 500 companies.
That ability to adapt and adopt precision agriculture technologies is what’s helped them increase production in the face of countless challenges to commercial-scale agriculture.
Every day there’s another story about resource limitations or new chemicals that have been banned at the local level. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t continue to farm, and meet today’s regulations or overcome resource limitations, without leveraging real-time technologies like ours.
So, it’s worth noting, our growers are leveraging modern technology to cut back pesticides, fuel consumption and the use of other inputs, to improve production and continue feeding our growing population.
What advice do you have for other startups?
If you’re going to build a successful solution for growers, you have to work hand in hand with them. Find out what their biggest challenges are and figure out how you can solve them — this season.
That’s the challenge: Delivering a solution that will help solve growers’ issues now. Because every day they’re waking up to a new set of problems in the field, and they’re going to keep farming the only the way they know how until they’re equipped with the tools that are proven and make a difference on their operation today.
Precision ag data is great, but actionable insights are worth a thousand times over on the farm and further down the production chain.
Where do you hope to see your company in the next three years?
We’re currently on pace to cover more than a million acres of high-value crops in California alone within the next couple years. We’re also looking forward to disrupting the growing cycle and achieving adaptive growing protocols that will enable the grower to become more efficient and close the gap between what a crop can produce and what it actually produces (the “yield gap”).
Also, we believe those adaptive growing protocols will give us the ability to disrupt the entire supply chain, beginning with a new understanding of what happens on the farm, enabling improved logistics, efficiency and the reduction of the inputs we use across commercial agriculture and the food industry at-large. We can’t wait to see just how far we take this technology!