Feeding the world through APIs at aWhere
Agricultural technology (AgTech) is not something you tend to think about as leading or bleeding edge technology. In the last 35 years, there have been huge strides in AgTech development. aWhere is one company that’s leading the way in helping customers understand the impact of weather on crop efficiency.
As background, aWhere is a B Corp. What’s one of those? From the aWhere blurbs: ‘B Corps are a new type of corporation that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems’.
B Corp status means that aWhere has achieved a recognized standard of corporate social responsibility. In short, its message about feeding the world through technology has genuine meaning.
Last week I met with Stewart Collis, CTO and Jeof Oyster, senior product manager for the company to discuss advances that are coming to market today, what the future holds and where APIs fit into the equation.
According to aWhere, the mature US and UK markets are reaching what I characterized as ‘peak production.’ Farming is now so efficient that there isn’t a lot more to squeeze out of the systems in place. However, there’s plenty of room to optimize yields based upon a range of predictive weather based programs.
aWhere takes this a stage further by providing information on a field level basis that help farmers choose optimum planting times, the best times to apply pesticides and final harvesting. aWhere goes much further.
Collis explained that the predictive capabilities it has developed help farmers optimize prices, which in turn helps buyers understand the extent to which they are exposed for future buying:
“The idea is that buyers can use our historical data along with market price information to understand correlations and trends and model the data, or at least give you enough information so that you can hedge,” he said. “We’re not saying this gives you complete contexts but in two different contexts a company such as Coca Cola or Mars might edge their decisions based upon what they’re seeing as patterns for the future.
“They very exposed to commodities like sugar and coffee prices changing and our information can help them. On the production side, it gets into funding decisions like how much should we give to deal with uncertainty in crop production. At the field level, it’s like the farmer asking: should I plant my standard variety or should hedge my risk with say a drought tolerant variety?”
So where do the APIs fit in? aWhere aggregates field level data that include planting dates, location and time data so that they can run growth models.
“We can say things like, you’re in stage three growth right now, and in your maize crop you should be watching for corn root worm right now, scouting for or maybe even treating for. We can run conditions conducive models. Are conditions right for that condition to occur and if it’s high then you maybe want to consider spraying.”
Data comes from multiple sources including ground doppler radar, meteorological stations, satellite passive radar systems and global climate forecast predictions. It can be thought of as a global virtual weather station with positions every few kilometers.
Thinking more broadly, Collis explained to me how his company is working with organizations like Gates Foundation to help bring modern agronomics to farmers in Africa.
The challenges are huge because m,any of the farming communities they meet are made up of smallholders operating in little more than subsistent farming conditions. However, the company has had some success when they can work with partners and cooperatives that provide agronomic data, typically over text message or into call centers, that in turn help farmers improve yields substantially.