Precision agriculture technology may be both financially and environmentally promising, but it has a bias: it can be unaffordable to the average farmer.
Greek startup Augmenta is trying to change that. The company has developed a retrofit device for farm machinery that instantly scans and analyzes crops and controls how much fertilizer, pesticide or fungicide is disbursed.
“Our goal is to be within reach of every farmer. No average farmer could afford to buy anything with the ‘precision agriculture’ title so far,” George Varvarelis, Augmenta’s founder and CEO told AFN. “By bringing retrofit equipment to the market, farmers in India, China and Africa can eventually use this system.”
Plenty of new technologies are hitting the market with the promise of helping farmers analyze and manage their fields more efficiently, and, in doing that, save on resources that account for a significant share of farmers’ costs. (Fertilizers alone can account for about 25% of a farmer’s input costs.)
Farmers typically have to choose between in-field, sensor-based platforms, which provide real-time but low-resolution data, or surveillance-based platforms, enabled by drones or satellites, which provide accurate, high-resolution data, but often with a day’s delay or more, says Varvarelis.
Augmenta’s system combines the two, conducting real-time field analysis using multi-spectral imaging. The ISOBUS-compliant, universal gadget then controls farmers’ spreader or sprayer to make sure that only the required amount of fertilizer, pesticide or fungicide is applied where it is needed.
What makes Augmenta’s platform possible is the advancement in multi-spectral cameras in recent years, says Varvarelis.
“Three years ago, this business would have been impossible,” he explains. “There weren’t cameras and high processing power systems, enabling real-time artificial intelligence, available at a price point that would have made that kind of processing affordable.”
From idea to market
When Augmenta set out to build an accessible and affordable precision farming system, its team of engineers had farmers’ bottom line in mind.
“We’re not trying to build a cool product—we’re trying to build something farmers will actually use,” Varvarelis says. “Our whole focus is trying to increase the efficiency of every acre while saving farmers from over-spending on resources.”
The company also hopes to have a positive impact both environmentally, by reducing the amount of chemical inputs farmers use, and on future food security, he adds. “It doesn’t matter if you have enough food if it’s making people sick.”
Augmenta is just launching commercial sales of its system, which will primarily be sold through agricultural distributors as a software subscription service backed by Augmenta’s hardware device. A dozen or so of its early models are already in use across 26,000 acres in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
Getting to the technology’s commercial launch was a sprint for the young company, fueled by a $600,000 seed round it raised from Athens-based Marathon Venture Capital last July. This time last year, Augmenta was deep into its hardware design.
“We have a hardware-enabled software-as-a-service model, but if you neglect the hardware development, you don’t have a business model,” explains Varvarelis. “We focused on building something robust so we wouldn’t have to think about it later, and could focus on the software side of the business.”
Each of Augmenta’s devices are designed for use on 1,000-acres of land, whether that’s by one large user or multiple smaller users—as a shared device for a co-operative, for example.
The new round of funding will support Augmenta’s expansion across North and South America as a starting point.