Connectivity

Behold: The internet of plants

These precision ag startups aim to help farmers boost yields by connecting crops.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photo: Getty Images

· 5 min read

Plants are already expressive, in some respects—they wilt from being underwatered, for example, or their leaves can shrivel up if they get too much sun.

But tech companies are trying to more precisely understand what plants are going through by stringing together sensors, software, and science, and selling farmers integrated platforms that aim to help them get the most out of their crops.

And just like bamboo, these companies are growing fast: According to Pitchbook, the precision agriculture market reached $7.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to nearly double to $13.9 billion by 2026.

PhyTech

PhyTech, an Israeli company, has raised over $43.5 million in funding since its founding in 2011. The company sells an IoT platform to farmers that consists of proprietary dendrometer sensors for crops, which measure the contractions and expansions of their trunks—an indicator of how watered and healthy the plant is. It also integrates soil sensors to track moisture, and weather sensors to keep tabs on atmospheric conditions.

The company displays a connected crop’s real-time condition in its app, which provides farmers a color-coded overview of their fields that they can use to treat and water specific areas, rather than blanketing the entire field.

Amir Lin, marketing director at PhyTech, told us the idea is that all of these sensors in concert will help farmers manage their crops with a detailed, bird’s-eye view of the condition of their plants, rather than making general adjustments to their farms as a whole.

“Farming has been late to adopt to the digital transformation that we experienced as consumers, practically in every area of our life,” Lin said.

PhyTech works with a variety of crops, including almonds, apples, cherries, avocado, kiwi, soybeans, and corn, in locales around the world like the US, Australia, Israel, Serbia, the UK, and South America.

The company claims that it covers 70% of almond trees in Australia, which was the world’s third-largest exporter of almonds in 2020.

InnerPlant

San Francisco-based company InnerPlant connects its plants at the root, recoding each plant’s DNA with biosensors—not external IoT sensors—that change color depending on the health of the plant. The biosensors express when a plant may need more water, is under stress from heat, or under attack from pests and other invasive species.

“Molecular biologists have been making biosensors in a lab for a very long time, but people never thought we could put them out in the field,” Aronov told us in January. “The nice thing is being able to merge those two technologies in an application that’s useful.”

gif of glowing plants from innerplant

InnerPlant

InnerPlant has raised over $5.7 million in funding since its founding in 2018, part of which it is using to grow a network of independent farmers that use InnerPlant’s tech.

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Using biosensors, InnerPlant’s expressive crops give off red, blue, and green signals that are invisible to the naked eye. But with optical equipment—including iPhones, drones, camera-equipped tractors, or even satellites—tailored to pick up the signals emitted by the augmented plants, farmers can make specific adjustments to their crops.

The company’s tech has been trialed in soybeans and cotton. It plans to venture into corn by the end of 2022, and to commercialize its soybean applications by 2024.

SupPlant

SupPlant specializes in analyzing plant health, and it raised $27 million in Series B funding in March, bringing the Israel company’s total to $49 million since its founding in 2012. SupPlant says it will use the funds to grow its operations in Israel, the UAE and Morocco, and expects to expand into the United States in 2023.

The company uses five different sensors—deep soil, shallow soil, trunk, leaf, and fruit—placed in and around a fruit tree to gather real-time data on plant stress, growth patterns, weather conditions, and soil water content. The data gained from one tree is then extrapolated out to all trees within an average of 20 acres, giving farmers insight into ideal crop irrigation for the days ahead.

SupPlant sensor gripping a piece of fruit

SupPlant

“Irrigation is the most crucial thing to any crop. It’s the thing that, if you know how to master, will generate the most usability. A farmer sprays a couple of times a season, they irrigate almost every day, sometimes more. This focus is driving most of the strategic decisions from that point on,” Ori Ben Ner, CEO and founder at SupPlant, told Emerging Tech Brew.

Ben Ner said SupPlant’s tech can help farms reduce their water use on average between 30% and 40%. In the United Arab Emirates, SupPlant’s date-growing pilot reduced water use by 70%, the company claims, and Ben Ner said it now has a contract to expand the tech to 3 million date trees in the UAE.

SupPlant’s products are tailored to crops like olives, grapes, sugar beet, and mangoes, and carrots. 

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