“I haven’t met a grower yet that wastes water on purpose,” says Oliver Jerphagnon, founder of PowWow Energy, a California based company aiming to leverage big data to provide simple answers to farmers in the field. The company has set its sights on solving many of the water conservation issues that have been plaguing farmers since the dawn of California’s current unprecedented drought. “They have a very difficult life and if we help them provide data on the field in the form of answers, in our experience, they always make the right decisions.”
On Monday, June 15, PowWow announced that it received the top grant award from the California Energy Commission (CEC), securing the company a $2.3 million slice of the CEC’s total $27 million grant fund. The money will be used to help PowWow launch its second Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product, Irrigation Advisor, at five different farming locations throughout the Central Valley.
When it comes to SaaS, Jerphagnon sees two very important advantages to using the service: “The first reason is that it reduces the upfront costs. Farmers can get information on the first day that they use our product. The second reason is that it is more scalable. They don’t have to install hardware. We have opportunities of scale across thousands of farms very quickly as opposed to going door to door to be able to provide a service.”
Spanning more than 1,600 acres, the farms selected for the two-year CEC grant program include alfalfa, almonds, pistachios, and tomatoes. “They are popular crops. Alfalfa is 1.2 million acres and almonds are more than 850,000 acres, so they have a very big overall footprint in California,” says Jerphagnon. “Pistachios and tomatoes are smaller at 200,000 to 400,000 acres, but they are very important in the food chain and also very representative. Altogether we have a range of annual and permanent crops, and a range of southern and northern crops.”
Through the grant program, PowWow hopes to prove how the SaaS platform can potentially save 250,000 acre-feet of water each year, reduce energy consumption by 100 gigawatt-hours, and cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
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Irrigation Advisor integrates software an aerial imagery to provide farmers with a full irrigation management solution. The program integrates local data from existing farm records and imagery from a number of PowWow’s partners. “If we want to help them make decisions we have to find out what information they have today. They may have records on nutrition applications and so on. Some of the more advanced farms may have soil sensors. No matter what, however, we always access their data in a secure way that will respect their privacy.”
The company also announced that it received $700,000 in angel funding from Family Offices in California and Colorado to provide cost matching and to accelerate the growth of its first SaaS product, Pump Monitor. “This year, because of the drought, we see that the groundwater table is a bigger issue for growers than leaks. Being able to know when they are going to run out of water is a big deal.” Using a combination of Irrigation Advisor and Pump Monitor, PowWow has enabled farmers to find out when their groundwater will run out several months in advance. When it comes to leak detection, these products not only alert farmers to leaks in their irrigation systems, but help them identify the precise location of the leak as well.
PowWow represents a unique team of Silicon Valley veterans who have ample experience navigating the venture capital world. “The other 50 percent of our DNA is the growers we worth with and partner with, the farming communities and the family offices that invested in us. It is important to listen to their community values,” says Jerphagnon, who sees many opportunities for agtech in the realm of water conservation. As the drought enters its fourth year, more and more farmers are turning to agtech to help make the most out of every precious drop of water.
“We cannot improve or manage what we don’t measure. Its up to Silicon Valley and the Central Valley to work together and we are happy to be part of that.”
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