Salesforce CEO Joins $2m Seed Round of Crop Disease Prediction Software Taranis

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Israeli farm management software Taranis has raised $2 million in seed funding in a round led by crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, and Eshbol Ventures, an Israeli early stage investment firm.

Joining the seed round was Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of sales software giant Salesforce. Benioff was introduced to Taranis by its first investor, and the serial entrepreneur, Eyal Gura. Israel-based early stage firms Kaeden Capital and iAngels also joined the round.

“Marc is a software-as-a-service expert and is invested in Planet Labs so has loads of relevant connections for the business,” said Ofir Schlam, CEO of Taranis.

Taranis focuses on making crop disease predictions using weather data sourced from public weather services, satellite imagery, and weather stations.

“Our proprietary weather forecast model takes weather data from national weather services like the GFS in the US, and makes it much higher resolution to detect micro weather conditions. From here we can start to detect the conditions in which various diseases take hold,” said Schlam.

Taranis also implements a localized model adding local public data and deploying weather stations every two miles on farms that don’t already have them. “It’s quite common for the larger farms to own weather stations already, and we can integrate with any vendor they already have. We can also suggest good models for them to buy, or if they take on our full service over more than 1,000 acres, we will cover the cost of deploying the stations,” said Schlam.

In describing how the startup’s technology predicts diseases, he gives the example of the ‘Fire blight’ disease, which causes $100 million worth of loss to the apple and pear industry in the US every year. The bacterial pathogen causing it — Erwinia amylovora — reproduces under specific temperature and humidity conditions, and only enters crops through the flowers when there’s a certain level of wetness and precipitation.

“By monitoring these conditions, we can detect, in realtime, infection periods, and can then notify farmers to put on a protectant spray. This reduces their spray loads and increases yields,” said Schlam.

Taranis aims to go further than its competitors that Schlam says largely focus on disease identification; instead Taranis promises disease prediction before any impact to a crop. It also has a SmartScout app integrated with these predictions sending messages and chat notifications to a farmers’ network of service providers, such as their agronomists or crop scouts. This enables them to prioritize their work on the farm each visit.

With the proceeds of the seed round, the company is expanding its team from the four co-founders, which self-funded the startup’s first 18 months, to 10 members of staff. This includes developers, meteorologists, agronomists and sales staff. The startup’s go-to-market strategy focuses on Brazil, Argentina and the US across soybeans, corn, and cotton, although it can be used for other crops.

The service costs $3 an acre with no limitations such as number of users, said Schlam.

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