This post is part of our Future of Agriculture series, in which we interview the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.
The following is an interview we recently had with Eyal Amit, VP of Business Development for FieldIn.
1. What’s the history of FieldIn? Where and how did you begin?
AE: FieldIn was founded in 2013, in Israel, with a very specific purpose: to improve the quality and safety of chemical applications.
The idea was conceived over a Friday night dinner. Our CEO Boaz Bachar’s father-in-law, an avocado grower, expressed his frustration with interpreting insights from technologies he was using. Specifically, he felt something was wrong with his pest management activities – he was spending too much on spray applications, but couldn't put his finger on why.
After several weeks of field testing and explorations on his property, our Chief Agronomist and Co-Founder, Iftach Birger, born and raised on a three-generation farm in Northern Israel, confirmed suspicions: an almond field was accidentally sprayed twice during the same night. The applicators never noticed the mistake; no one could ever have guessed.
We asserted the problem was twofold: it was impossible to make sure chemicals were being applied precisely as prescribed; and, what's worse, there was no way to connect spray results – that is, the quality of execution – with later crop health assessments.
Pest management, a $65 billion industry (as of 2016), turned out to be a black hole: from growers and packing houses to agro-chemical companies and retailers – all the way to consumers – it became evident that nobody across the value chain had the essential visibility on the quality and safety of chemical applications, let alone on the efficiency of these operations.
For this reason, FieldIn was set to build the largest, authoritative AgPest database in the industry, which continues to grow with every additional customer and every spray task that takes place. We use the data to benchmark the efficacy of chemical treatments across different growers, products, and application methods, drawing conclusions on best-practice protocols while creating unprecedented visibility across all stakeholders.
2. What specific problem does FieldIn solve? How do you solve it?
AE: AgPest is a massive global problem. Every year, $300 billion worth of produce is lost worldwide due to pests and diseases. Foods that do reach the market are met with increasing consumer concerns regarding pesticide levels and that products are grown in sustainable agricultural environments.
Lack of visibility hurts all stakeholders involved in the food industry, and there is demand for greater transparency. Fruit and nut growers, for example, spend nearly 20% of annual growing costs on pest control. Tracking field work and identifying mistakes in real-time is critical, as margins are tight and there’s little room for error. Retailers need to know if their suppliers are providing acceptable produce that complies with tight regulation requirements and that meets customer traceability demands. Agro-chemical companies look for visibility on how their products are being used in the field, and if pest resistance events are being developed.
The emergence of IoT technologies in agriculture is enabling a revolution in precision agriculture. The industry is more keen now than ever before to adopt new technologies and “go smart” in order to reduce pesticide levels, as well as to enhance production quality and ensure compliance with ever-changing industry standards. FieldIn helps achieve that.
We are a data software service that provides fully automated traceability on AgPest usage, patterns and efficacy. We help record and reduce pesticide use, benchmark and optimize treatments and minimize spray mistakes, improving the quality and safety of fruits and nuts eaten worldwide.
FieldIn combines a variety of “storytellers”: real-time geospatial data, chemical information, biological evidence and weather and aerial imagery, all processed with the latest data science analytics into one integrative solution. We take advantage of new, previously inaccessible layers of information to capture chemical treatments and measure their impact, providing professionals with visualized insights and practical tools.
In essence, our mission is to take off the blindfold and help the industry see. It’s about removing any uncertainty or second guessing, creating awareness that leads to change. It’s about challenging the status quo.
3. What’s the future of Agriculture?
AE: The Ag space is moving at a fast pace. Every month new startups from around the globe pop-up with technologies hosting a variety of offerings for the industry as a whole and growers in particular. While this creates new opportunities, it may also be overwhelming or intimidating.
Earlier in this decade, questions were asked about the ability of technology to transform archaic practices often seen in Ag, and the industry’s appetite for innovation. Fast forward to 2018; now that question has completed turned. It’s not a question of “if”, but a question of “when” and “at what pace”.
In turn, I see three major trends headed our way:
Prediction #1: Adoption
Every modern grower walks around with a smartphone in their pocket. They use apps on a daily basis. They’ve started to trust technology and the possibilities it delivers. And, perhaps most importantly, many have had positive experiences using different solutions on their farm. But there’s still a long way to go. While growers like the idea of being progressive and bringing new technologies to the farm, when you look at adoption rates across the industry a different picture is revealed. The difference between purchasing a service, a sensor or a solution and actually using it is tremendous. It takes time. I’m optimistic, however, because there is so much innovation out there making a difference that it’s only a matter of time until Agtech becomes the norm on farm. And yes, even the long-time farmers who plan to retire in a few years understand it: technology incorporated into day-to-day farm tasks is the only possible future, otherwise you stay behind and jeopardize a lifetime’s work.
Prediction #2: Data modeling
Once adoption starts growing in numbers, a new opportunity arises. When applying data science to massive amounts of data aggregated over time, the power of predictive analytics and data modeling is revealed. An increasing variety of sensors are used nowadays to collect data, and this feeds into probability models, supporting decision-making and creating new work efficiencies that were simply not possible beforehand.
For instance, if we track a farm’s spray patterns over several seasons, the data can predict, based on numerous factors just how long it takes to effectively spray a certain block, the optimal time to refill the sprayer tank (while minimizing downtime) and what compounds are ideal for usage against a certain type of pest or disease in a certain month of the year with certain weather conditions. Handling powdery mildew in vineyards in Israel around April will be very different than handling the same pest type in a different month – let alone a different region.
Moreover, correlating data – say, between pest management practices and packaging rates – will become a standard for the industry rather than the exception, as it is today.
Prediction #3: Packaged offerings – more technology means more startups bombarding growers or other industry stakeholders with new offerings – and requiring a payment for their services. Already in some farms we work in, you can witness a grower working with 4 or 5 different technologies, wishing they could somehow be blended into one.
Pressure on the customer’s end to consolidate services is starting to occur, and it will force companies to collaborate and think of creative business models supporting such partnerships. I don’t believe growers can continue hosting such a wide range of services in parallel; sooner or later, one of the companies will “win the race“ and become the definitive platform to which all apps and services connect to.
4. What are the top 3 technological trends you’re seeing in Agriculture?
Prediction #1: Remote sensing
Cheaper than ever before and easy to install, sensors are gradually becoming THE way for collecting data and relying on them to make decisions (rather than relying on human inputs).
Prediction #2: Aerial imagery
Commercial drone and satellite imagery offer insights into field conditions like never before. They detect situations sometimes long before it would meet the human eye and deliver a value that was simply not there, creating a new angle of information and a new class of insights.
Prediction #3: Decision support systems
These can be divided into farm management software and ERP-like technologies that have been around for a few years and offer executives a macro look at things happening on the farm. Professional decision support systems, however, were not as prevalent as they are now becoming, and we are likely to see more and more digital tools developed for different stakeholders responsible for daily tasks and offering them a new view on things.
5. Why is the Agriculture industry ripe for disruption?
The emergence of IoT technologies in agriculture is enabling a revolution in precision agriculture. Farmers realize that innovation offers opportunities that were not there for them previously, which makes them more keen to adopt new technologies and “go smart” – especially if it helps them reduce costs and differentiate themselves from competition.
Ag is one of the industries that stayed behind in the technology race – until now. While the first few years were characterized by testing the grounds and seeing if growers have an appetite for tech development, it’s now evident that there’s something real behind these Agtech technologies, something disrupting where more and more growers cannot allow themselves to go without.
About Eyal Amit
An international business development leader with a proven track record in identifying, Eyal specializes in building and managing global partnerships of different size and scale. Amit has helped secure strategic alliances with top-ranked firms (like Cisco), bringing sales strategy to implementation and making the business case for successful collaborations. From engagement and acquisition activities in which he identified prospects and presented to c-level decision makers; through initiative planning and execution in which Amit formulated market penetration plans and led sales workshops in multiple regions; to relationship building and enablement where he pioneered partner programs and oversaw the development of new work toolkits – Amit thrives in helping companies realize the power of partnerships and benefit from them in every possible way.