In-field sensor amalgamates growth metrics

Farmers in North America have cited the inability of data to transfer between different hardware and software platforms as a barrier to usability – and by consequence, technology adoption.

This has spurred greater interest on the part of service providers to consider incorporating greater compatibility with other systems. Arable, a California-based data-service company, is an example.

Need for more user-friendly data
Jim Ethington, Arable’s chief executive officer, says the need for more user-friendly data – that is, data farmers can actually look at and use without too much hassle – was one of the driving forces behind the development of the “Arable Mark” device.

Arable Mark in-field sensor
The Arable Mark is an in-field sensor that measures environmental conditions, as well as the crop itself (through spectral image of the crop for chlorophyll content, temperature of the canopy, etc.). Data is saved to the cloud, and Arable turns it into a single layer of insights (e.g. growth stage and leaf wetness). That insight and recommendations are then delivered to the grower through a smartphone and web app.

“We’re trying to fill the hole of what’s happening between the crop and its environment,” says Ethington. “There’s a pretty substantial missing piece between the dynamics of crops and the environment. Timeliness of information is also an issue, partly because data resides in many different systems.”

Crop suitability
Ethington says a major use of the Mark system is in monitoring irrigation requirements. In this context it is particularly suited for growers of higher value and other horticultural crops – such as California’s wine grape growers.

However, partnerships with other service providers give them further abilities in crop protection. For example, disease modeling data from the Arable system can be processed through BASF’s Xarvio program to determine fungicide recommendations.

“To build a really robust recommendation product turns out to be quite hard. BASF already had a framework,” Ethington says. “It’s not trying to solve every problem for everybody but to utilise a lot of different data streams”

One Arable Mark unit for 20 acres
For irrigated specialty crops, one Arable Mark unit can handle an approximate area of 20 acres, which Ethington says is generally aligned with the scope of most irrigation systems. For dryland row crops (e.g. corn) it could be one every 250 acres as the depth of knowledge isn’t the same.

“What’s the relevance of a measured point over space? If I know what’s happening in this key circle, I can [extrapolate] to a wider area,” says Ethington when referring to the Mark’s climate-specific data collection capabilities.

“Sometimes it’s just someone gets fed up with a weather station that isn’t working. You don’t want to necessarily use it for a field 10 miles away, but if your one mile away it’s a different story.”

Data ownership and cost
Sharing data with other service providers raises data ownership and use questions. In response related queries, Ethington says farmers using Arable services “have the right to say who gets to see it” by adding, restricting, or removing parties able to access it. He adds Arable uses data to improve its overall products.

“Most farmers I think see this as a fair trade,” he says. “It comes down to the value trade. Its only reasonable if each gets something back.”

While cost can vary with quantity, a standard Mark device costs $ 1100. For each year of use, a subscription for the necessary cellular plan (connectivity) and access for the software and service is $ 500 per device per year. A simplified product or model to just focus on weather costs $ 250 per year.




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