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Crop scouting made easier

TrueCause technology by Aker features camera-mounted probe to record in-season crop metrics.


Ever tire of walking your fields in season, looking for every malady under the sun?

Well, of course, and chances are, you probably don’t do it on every field – if at all.

“Walking fields is not getting any easier, and there's not enough labor to be able to do that,” says Orlando Saez, cofounder and CEO of Aker Technologies, a St. Louis-based crop diagnostics and analytics firm.  “We came up with our technology that essentially automates a tried-and-true method that has been gone for decades called crop scouting.”

Saez briefed members of the agricultural media at a BASF media event prior to this week’s Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas.

The technology – TrueCause – features a probe packed with small cameras that record in-season under-the-canopy crop readings like carbon dioxide levels, humidity, temperature, and other metrics that Aker uses to georeference the field.

Crop scouts can use the probe to manually take readings while walking a field. However, it’s easier to cover more ground by mounting the camera portion of the probe on a drone to record data.

Saez says it’s an improvement over most remote technology that exists today. Rather than using predictive models to approximate what is occurring in the field, the probe records more accurate crop metrics.

“It is not based on mapping,” he says. It is based on sampling.”

When mounted on a drone, the probe flies up and down in a field at certain intervals as it records the metrics, akin to when soil samplers pull core soil samples in the fall. 

“What we're bringing is a higher temporal and spatial resolution,” Saez says. He says the probe better detects on what’s occurring in the many microclimates that exist within a field.

Aker teams with agricultural companies like BASF, retailers, and agricultural suppliers in providing them this information so they can then use make in-season recommendations to farmers. 

Information gleaned by such technologies could be used by companies forming outcome-based pricing strategies. Under such scenarios, companies guarantee a certain metric like yield if certain practices are followed and products are used.

Other companies use the data collected akin to a check engine light on a car that shows a problem that needs correction. 

“Technology brings transparency, and there are winners and losers,” says Saez. Some will be unhappy with what the data reveals. 

“Let’s say a retailer has been selling a product on trust, without proof that it is effective,” he says. “We can come in and show it wasn’t effective. That retailer’s not going to be happy.”

On the other hand, it can show field treatments – such as a fungicide or insecticide application—that are effective. 

It’s akin to human medicine, where a blood test can help a physician match the correct treatment to the patient.

“This adds more certainty and predictability,” Saez says. “It’s all about the data.”

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