The money flowing into the agtech and crop-monitoring markets are putting the green back into ‘greenhouse’
Israeli agriculture startup Prospera announced that they had raised a $7 million Series A funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners on Tuesday. The company is one of many in the growing crop-monitoring business, a booming market that has begun to resemble an arms race among other so-called ‘agtech‘ companies incorporating everything from drones to advanced satellite imagery to analyze how your yields are doing.
There are several kinds of crop-monitoring startups out there, though Prospera seems to be taking attention to detail to another level. According to Prospera Co-founder and CEO Daniel Koppel, those companies are mainly based on climate and soul sensors, or have relatively limited imaging data.
All this includes excruciating attention to detail, down to the “individual leaves on plants, and a looping video on the homepage that indicates their in-field monitoring equipment also scans things ‘berry-by-berry.'”
“By comparison, companies working with drones or satellites are receiving delayed data (with operational work needed) as well as images with around 1-10 meters per pixel. This is very different from having cams on site,” Prospera CEO Daniel Koppel argued in a correspondence with Geektime. “And companies working without images, only with climatic sensors, don’t have the ability to detect issues affecting plant growth and health that require visual analysis – the vast majority of pests, disease, etc.”
The company boasts an expert team in computer vision — a strong industry in Israel, particularly thanks to the department at Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus in Jerusalem. Prospera is already operating its technology in Israel, North America and Europe, claiming some major corporate clientele like Walmart, Tesco, Aldi and UK-based Sainsbury’s.
A global alms race
Estimates on the size of the market vary. One report predicts “precision farming” will have 12.56% growth year on year through 2020, and the “Yield Monitor Market” will be valued in excess of $2.5 billion by 2020, according to MarketsandMarkets. The industry examines things like weather forecasts, geography, soil quality and the types of crops you are growing to indicate what sort of modifications you need to make to protect or enhance your farm. That might mean more efficient watering or considerations for coming cold spells, perhaps even threats like incoming swarms of pests or trending crop diseases.
Israeli company Phytech has raised a similar amount of money for software that also recommends to farmers how to best manage their crops. Also Israeli Taranis Visual focuses more on climate conditions, though all these solutions have massive overlap.
Koppel deflects any concern that the market for more efficient crop management is unnecessary in places like the U.S., where upwards of 50% of all produce is wasted. Besides, he suggests, this isn’t a tool meant to be limited to lucrative markets like America’s.
“There is food waste created at all levels of the supply chain, from seedling to pantry. Prospera is aiming to create far greater efficiency for the farmer at the very beginning of the food supply chain. There is also [a] lot of talk about a potential food supply shortage as the global population increases, where we will have to increase our output by 50% as the global population rapidly increases.”
From greenhouse effect to mass effect
How many sensors and cameras are needed for that sort of operation really depends on what you’re growing.
Koppel says, “We sell our sensors in packages, tailored to the needs of the individual farm, so the amount of sensors in use at any given farm depends on the size of the farm or greenhouse and the required functionality.”
He gives the example of a greenhouse, which he says tends to yield produce with fewer nutrient deficiencies, resulting in a lower number of mechanisms to monitor that problem. The same can’t be said of pests and disease, though. Koppel claims some clients use up to 4,000 acres of greenhouse space while the company is moving more specifically into the orchard and vineyard markets with the wine growers in Israel and Spain (and when it comes to grapes, farmers get very specific about their needs).
While Koppel clearly puts emphasis on their indoor monitors, he is anxious to incorporate more of that drone and satellite data into his company’s system as they move toward outdoor crops.
“We are planning to do so for field crops where the combination of proximal sensing together with remote sensing is proving to be extremely efficient,” he notes.
The company was founded in 2014 by CEO Daniel Koppel, CTO Shimon Shpiz and VP of R&D Raviv Itzhaky. They currently have 30 employees in their offices in Israel and Spain.