Tools & data

Background

Technology to change the way horticulture is managed

Technology will make horticulture more efficient and sustainable, says founder and Managing Director Ros Harvey of Australian company, The Yield Technology Solutions.

According to Ms Harvey, technology is also the key to dealing with the impacts of climate change. “Weather is becoming more unpredictable”, she emphasises. “And critical resources like water are scarcer and therefore more expensive. We must change the way we grow things to do more with less.”

The Yield recently finalised an investment of US $7.85 million, led by Yamaha Motor Ventures. The agtech company will use the investment for further development of its product, particularly in the field of analytics. The Yield will also focus on its go-to-market and patent strategies, says Ms Harvey.

Uncertainty created by weather

The company focuses on a problem all growers share: the uncertainty created by weather. “It’s the one thing they can’t control in their production processes”, says Ms Harvey. “And everyone that sells into a farm or buys out from a farm is affected by this fundamental problem. That’s effectively what we solve. So that growers only use the inputs they need to use and reduce food waste.”

Localised prediction

The Sydney based company uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create a solution for growers. Its core product Sensing+ is able to collect data over a 3,000 square kms area. The platform helps farmers to increase revenue, reduce costs, mitigate risks and assists customers in their digital transformation.

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Real time data and AI

The Yield holds a global patent right to its solution, Ms Harvey says. “We take real time data and then use AI to produce a very localised prediction. The global weather forecasting system uses a 25 by 25 km grid. So you‘re getting an average of this grid. In many countries they use local sensors and grid down to for example a 4 by 4 km grid. We go further and create a prediction for microclimates.”

As we deepen our engagement with our customers, we are not only solving problems on farms, but also along the supply chain

The platform increasingly uses data from technology that its customers already use. “With yield prediction in berries, we take data from the harvest management systems of our customers”, Ms Harvey says. “As we deepen our engagement with our customers, we are not only solving problems on farms, but also along the supply chain.”

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Founder Ros Harvey of The Yield: "Growers experience that the weather on the farm can be quite different from the predictions." - Photo: The Yield
Founder Ros Harvey of The Yield: "Growers experience that the weather on the farm can be quite different from the predictions." - Photo: The Yield

In-tunnel weather prediction

The company recently rolled out Sensing+ across eight berry farms of the Costa Group in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. “Costa grows their berries in poly-tunnels”, Ms Harvey explains. “This creates a microclimate and so the grid weather prediction is not very effective there anymore. Our sensing equipment provides an in-tunnel weather prediction, and we use our web and mobile apps to gather microclimate data. We then combine this data with Costa’s harvest management system data to provide weather predictions, apps to help improve on-farm effectiveness and yield predictions.”

What plants are experiencing

The same practice can be used for predicting light in a glass house or wind on the top of a glass house, Ms Harvey explains. “Or for in-canopy growing conditions. What are the plants actually experiencing? We are an analytics business. That’s the core of what we do. We deliver to our customers easy to use solutions so they can make fast, confident decisions about when to plant, irrigate, feed, protect and harvest.”

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Poly-tunnels as this one of the Costa Group create a microclimate. - Photo: The Yield
Poly-tunnels as this one of the Costa Group create a microclimate. - Photo: The Yield

Many growers still rely on traditional manual methods of yield prediction that can often be inaccurate. “They have their own weather stations”, Ms Harvey says. “But they experience that the weather on the farm can be quite different from the predictions. Our predictions are more accurate. We had an almond grower that was able to double the spray hours in which he could operate, within the environmental constraint. This can be very important for sensitive crops like almonds. The wider spray window also delivered the grower a better return on investment for their robotics operation.”

Higher gross margin per hectare

The Yield works mainly in intensive irrigated crops, where there is a higher gross margin per hectare. “If you are in broadacre in Australia and doing huge crops like wheat or sorghum, you don’t have the tools or incentives as a grower to manage that crop at a microclimate level”, Ms Harvey explains. “It’s just not worth your while. But the intensive irrigated perennial crops have four times the gross margin per hectare. The growers manage their harvesting very accurately because their return on investment is so much higher.”

New features are added to Sensing+ approximately every two weeks, Ms Harvey says. “It’s a continual process. We recently added Block Selection, which makes it easier for users of our platform to sort blocks by weather phenomenon such as extreme temperatures or water balances. This is important for multi-site large corporate growers. Another addition is Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR). This is an important variable that growers in glass houses and tunnels use for crop management.”

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CEO Harry Debney of the Costa Group, a customer of The Yield, and Ros Harvey. - Photo: The Yield
CEO Harry Debney of the Costa Group, a customer of The Yield, and Ros Harvey. - Photo: The Yield

Electrical Conductivity

Another example of a new feature is Electrical Conductivity (EC). Ms Harvey: “In systems where you manage the fertiliser with the irrigation, this is used as a proxy for nutrient levels. It is used by growers to adjust their nutrition programme. In our platform, growers can combine their own preferred weather variables to solve certain problems.”

According to Ms Harvey The Yield’s core technology team is from one of Australia’s most successful fintech businesses. “The team built the world’s largest financial database, used to create the algrorithms for high-frequency trading and sold as a service around the world. That’s why we had a jump-start managing huge amounts of data.”

Global multinationals

Currently the Yield has customers in Australia, New Zealand and the US. “We planned to increase our marketing in the U.S. but with COVID-19 this has not been possible”, Ms Harvey says. “But interestingly most of our customers are global multinationals and we are already providing services to support their growing bases globally.”

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A The Yield node at a berry farm of the Costa Group. - Photo: The Yield
A The Yield node at a berry farm of the Costa Group. - Photo: The Yield

Accelerate the digital transformation

At the moment most customers of The Yield are looking to accelerate their digital transformation, Ms Harvey says. “They want to get more value out of their data by combining it with our analytics. We have a strong demand because of COVID-19. They are facing pressure on labour and want to improve managing their assets remotely. Big multinational food companies want to minimise their risks. They also need to understand the situation around their harvest, so that they can better match market access.”

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