Insights into Smart Farming: Interviews with PrecisionHawk and Granular

The word is out. Entrepreneurs around the world have heard about the challenge of feeding 9.6 billion people by 2050[1] and are responding. i3, our platform that tracks investments across the Cleantech industry, indicates that Ag and Food is one of the fastest growing cleantech sectors with a CAGR of 31% and $2.6 billion of investment in between 2010 and Q3 2014. Smart farming technologies, from improved sensors to cloud processing for yield optimization and robotics to improve manual tasks, have seen the most deals over this period.

We recently spoke with two rising stars in the smart farming space: Adam Litle, VP of Business Development and Finance at Granular, and Pat Lohman, COO at PrecisionHawk. Granular is a developer of a farm management and analytics platform for growers and PrecisionHawk is a developer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for automated aerial analysis of farms. We discussed their solutions, the smart farming landscape and emerging opportunities as the farming industry evolves.

What is the main driver for adoption of your technology?

  • AL- Farms are becoming more professional as consolidation has picked up over the last decade. As farms grow, producers are not able to run them as many have historically – i.e., with excel, paper work orders, or by gut instinct. Granular provides a technology platform for all aspects of their operations, incorporating analytics and decision support to increase profitability.
  • PL- Farmers wanting to improve their crop yield and quality while saving resources – primarily inputs (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) and time. They are looking for solutions that can reduce chemicals by spraying more precisely but they also need the ability to proactively identify problems in the shortest amount of time. PrecisionHawk enables this.

What is your target customer?

  • AL- Our ideal customer wants to use new technology to improve their operations and is looking for a competitive edge as they grow larger. Many of our customers are 10,000 acres or more, but size of the farm may or may not have anything to do with it. There are row crop operations as small as 2,000 – 3,000 acres who are looking to embrace software to enhance their operation.
  • PL- We currently work mainly with seed and chemical companies and consultants with the aim of rolling out to more farmers. The 3rd parties are setting the stage for wide scale farmer adoption in the future.

Are growers fearful of handing over their data to third parties?

  • AL- There can be some apprehension, so we discuss our data privacy policy upfront with our customers. It outlines that we have the right to aggregate the growers’ data but will never divulge identifiable information from their operations.
  • PL- Certainly, this is very private information, akin to asking someone how much money is in their bank account. Above all else, we place a premium on data security and greatly value the trust we have built with our customers. That being said, we recognize the beneficial nature of aggregated aerial data. Clients who choose to be a part of the effort will have the opportunity to share data in a forum that will be educational and informative to industry stakeholders.

How do you work with existing 3rd party equipment and service providers on the farm to access data?

  • AL- We prioritize partners based upon who is most important to the farmers, and who enables easiest access to the right type of data. We are working on integration with equipment providers so that we can automate data collection from machines in the cloud to supplement or replace the tracking of both applied and yield actuals. Granular also has strong relationships with financial consultants, grain marketing advisors and lenders as we believe they will be able to provide better advice to their clients who use Granular to provide them with real-time information. We recently announced a strategic partnership with Kennedy & Coe – the leading agricultural CPA and financial advisory firm in the US – to do just that.
  • PL- We understand that we do not have all the answers because we don’t have all of the information to make decisions so we integrate with partners. We work with crop consultants and other digital solutions that offer the information that we cannot see from the air. In the future, we also see a closed loop system with Ag equipment where the data that we are collecting can be put back into the intelligence of something like a sprayer or harvester. One of the most important aspects of partnering for us is to make sure that our partners are also trusted by farmers – it’s critical that we do not lose the farmers’ trust because of a new partner.

What differentiates your service from those of incumbents who provide comparable services aimed at achieving similar results for growers?

  • AL- The integration of financial, agronomic and operational data in a single cloud platform is Granular’s major differentiator. There are point solutions in the space that are targeted at one of those areas, or accounting, but nothing that is attempting such a broad-based integration. Further, with cloud software that can be used on multiple devices, producers can run their operation from anywhere and anytime.
  • PL- The biggest one is scalability. If you are trying to collect 10 different parts from 10 different companies, it is not easy to scale and that is an opportunity that we saw. If we were just going to perform one piece of the chain there could be a lot of variation on how the data eventually gets interpreted. Beyond the UAV, we close the chain all the way through to analysis to create consistent products.

What is your vision for how your solution and the market evolve over the next 5 years?

  • AL- We are nearly finished building out the financial aspects of our software, including budgeting, actuals integrated with machine data, and grain marketing and risk management. As we move forward we see integrations with a variety of existing software solutions helping producers to access all their pertinent information on a single platform. The real power will then come as producers start to use that data to drive more of their day-to-day decisions, reducing costs and enhancing revenue opportunities as they do.
  • PL- All of our functionality is going to get smarter. The planes and processing are already autonomous but we want to push the limits on how intelligent the things are so we can guarantee the consistency of the data product every time. Along with that, we want to be able to collect, process, and analyze faster and the only way to do that is to start moving the data pipeline quicker. We will be able to tell the sprayer to do more here or less here, and that is hugely impactful on input costs and time

Thanks to Pat and Adam for sharing their thoughts with us here and during our webinar. Join us at our upcoming Cleantech Forum San Francisco, March 16th – 18th, for an opportunity to meet Pat and Adam and to discuss Ag and Food innovation with corporations, investors, policy makers and other rising stars in the industry.  And as always, visit i3 to learn more about the latest investment trends, deals and other key insights in the Ag and Food space.

[1] “World Population Projected to Reach 9.6 Billion by 2050 | UN DESA | United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” UN News Center. UN